Sunday, December 29, 2013

Villancicos, a beatiful tradition for the Spanish class

I have always been a great fan of the villancicos, Christmas carols, they always bring great memories of my childhood in Northern Spain. We used to sing them at school and my friends and I went door to door singing to get some Aguinaldo (free sweets and candy given out after the performance). Perhaps they didn't always give us sweets because of our good singing...I also remember to sing villancicos at home, after the big supper on the 24th when my grandparents came for the holidays and they always wanted to do a bit of traditional singing.
Some teachers told me that it would not be a good idea to sing villancicos with high school students. If I were in a bilingual program in Spain, I would love to learn some Christmas carols in English in high school. However, the carols help students to learn about Christmas's traditions in Spanish-speaking countries. Moreover, they can help students to improve their command in Spanish. Students can also do some research about what a villancico was in the past: traditionally it was a type of strophe used by poets to write songs not necessarily related to Christmas or religion. It was quite recently when villancico became associated to songs to celebrate Christmas. Students can also find some traditional villancicos and decide which ones they prefer.

It is not difficult to find most of the traditional carols on the web as well as those composed by renown musicians. These are links where we can listen to a good selection of villancicos.
I have to admit that I have my favourite ones. These are three of them with lyrics.

Campana sobre Campana

¡Ay del Chiquirritín!

Pastores Venid

If we are very musical we can download some music sheets and organize a concert with our students. Or we can use a karaoke to do a more practical approach.
The villancicos are great tools to learn about Christmas, one of the most rooted traditions in Spanish-speaking countries. Moreover, they can help students to enjoy lyrics and singing, improve their pronunciation and their sense of rhythm and gain confidence when using Spanish, especially if we organize a small performance for the rest of the school. It is a bit later for this year but we still can sing some villancicos dedicated to the Three Wise Men on January the sixth.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Peaceful Globalization for the Spanish Class

Javier Limón is a Spanish musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist and university professor. He is the Artistic Director of the Mediterranean Music Institute from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has worked with some of the most influential Spanish artists such as Paco de Lucía, Bebo Valdés or Diego el Cigala. He has also been very keen to work with young, sometimes unknown, artists from numerous countries in avant-garde musical projects. I'd like to introduce today his last project published in 2013, Promesas de Tierra. They use music composed by Javier Limón  to join together the Sephardic Jewish, Christian and Moorish traditions, which are the foundations of flamenco. The music is performed by young musicians from Spain, Israel, Palestine and other Middle-East countries and the result is outstanding. At this time of the year, to see these young people from different cultures putting their effort together to create such beautiful music is a good way to finish our Spanish classes and wish everyone a happy and peaceful winter holiday.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Short Stories to learn about Christmas in Spanish speaking countries

In a previous post I spoke about three short novels for children which introduce the topic of The three Wise Men. It is a tradition that is worth teaching in high schools too.

In the website Albalearning there is a section dedicated to short stories related to Christmas celebrations. Besides, there is a mp3 file for each story so students can listen to the short story while they read.

Navidad en los Andes, a short story by Peruvian writer Ciro Alegria, depicts how Christmas was and probably still is in a small community in the Andes. The writer remembers his return from school to his parents' house for the Christmas vacations. He describes the preparations for the big meal with very traditional Peruvian products and  shared by all the members of the community. Then he enumerates some of the rituals for that special day such as the carols and the dances. It is surprising to me to see that some of the carols that appear in the story have exactly the same lyrics as the traditional carols in Spain. Another tradition where all the family got involved was the layout of the Nativity Set. He tells us about the gathering of the different plants to ornate it, something I used to do when I was a child in Northern Spain.

Ciro Alegria was a writer who showed the situation of the native Peruvians in his works. The oppression they suffered from the elite Peruvian class, most of them descendants of Europeans, was the main theme in his works. In this short story, he points out that Christmas was the only time of the year when the white leading class mingled with the "indios" and the "cholos", the mixture of native American and European who were the servants in the farms. In the story the author describes the dances and songs performed by all the young girls in the community together, regardless of their race or social class.

AttributionSome rights reserved by Municipalidad de Miraflores

In the same website there are more Christmas stories available, some are classics most of us are familiar with but we can also find some quite unknown stories in Spanish. They are  good readings to learn about the vision of the tradition of the Three Wise Men which some famous writers in Spanish had. I particularly like El Regalo de Inocencia by Concha Espina. Concha Espina was one of the first female writers in Spain who had great success in her time, she was even proposed for the Literature Nobel prize. She was born in Northern Spain and she shows the customs and traditions of the people from the countryside in that part of Spain very accurately in her works.

Inocencia, the main character in the short story, is an 18-year-old girl who works as a maid in a mansion. She is pretty but simple and she lived in a small village all her life before starting with her job. On the eve of January the sixth, she is asked to set a table with coffee ready for the the Three Wise Men, who are coming to bring presents and are tired and cold. Everyone goes to bed except for the house masters and when Inocencia gets up after a sleepless night she discovers that the kings had drunk her coffee and left a handkerchief for her as a present. Everyone keeps quiet so she does not find out what really happened. The short story shows the life of the young peasant girls in Spain at the end of the 19th century and the kind of life they had while they worked for rich families, their tasks and duties. Inocencia embodies this hard-working but innocent people who still believed the Three Wise Men were real.

AttributionSome rights reserved by M. Martin Vicente via Flickr

My third choice, El Partido de Reyes by Manuel Rivas, is a beautiful short story written by a master of the genre. The story takes place in the 60's in La Coruña, a middle-sized city in Northern Spain. The narrator tells us about Félix, one of his school mates who suffers Down syndrome. Félix always does his best in any activity he takes part in. He loves football and despite his unlimited effort he is just accepted in the role of ball carrier by the rest of students, a task he does with complete dedication. On January the sixth, a holiday for schools in Spain, the students have their big match against the tough boys from another neighbourhood. The big day comes but they are one player short, their captain has deserted the team out of fear. However, Félix has followed the team like he always does and he is brings his new ball, a present brought by the Three Wise Men. After some hesitation, he is asked to join the team. He takes his position, does an outstanding job and even scores the goal for the equalizer after a tough game. To his team mates he becomes the hero that, without knowing, has always been.
This is a beautiful short story full of tenderness and realism and which depicts very accurately the life of young boys in a small city in Spain. It also includes plenty of themes that we can discuss in our classes: the role of religion, how to integrate students with learning difficulties in a school and in society, what it means to be brave and support your team, etc. On a personal note, the story brings memories of my childhood in Northern Spain and the football games in the rain in winter when we played against boys from another neighbourhood, in many cases on January the sixth.
The short story is part of a book called "Cuentos de un Invierno", published by Alfaguara serie Roja, which contains 7 more short stories, all of them linked by the recurrent theme of winter. All these short stories can be used for one of our classes and I will write about them soon.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Short documentaries for the Spanish class: Other cultures

We should not understimate the potential of resources which have been translated into languages from the original ones. They are great resources for a Bilingual or IB program and we can use the Spanish subtitled version to learn more about other cultures.

El manáby Artal and Carrascal, is a short documentary from Colombia. The narrator tells us about his life as a Wayúu. The Wayúus are an ethnic group from La Guajira peninsula, in the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Surrounded by the desert they have kept their language, culture and laws up to our days. However, globalization is affecting them now in unexpected ways.

Balthasar by Joanot Cortés, a young director from Spain. In Mozambique the effects from the European colonisation and the civil war are still present. However, there are projects that bring hope to the most vulnerable ones, the children. "A nossa Escola" is a pedagogical project between the Universidade Beira Interior (Portugal) and the elementary school Bairro Triunfo in Mozambique. Balthasar wants to recite the poem that he learnt in the best possible way. He rehearses the verses and then he delivers them in a outstanding way. We can listen to a poem that embodies the wish for a better future for all children in his country and around the world. The information about the short was taken from this blog.

Djenneba, by José Manuel Herraiz. This is another short documentary that shows the hope for a better future for Djenneba. She is an albino young girl in Mali, one the poorest countries in the world. Despite her condition, despite the environment where she grew up, she has not given up and still thinks a bright future is waiting for her.

In this link, we can also watch the short film and learn about the reasons that moved the director to create it. He is planning a second part and I can´t wait to see his second short film about Djenneba´s life: Buscando a Djenneba.
These are three short documentaries that took part in Notodofilmfest, the film festival I have mentioned in previous posts. They show a different reality for our students and can trigger interesting discussions in our class and they can also be used in research projects .  They are good examples to make students aware that Spanish can be a working tool to learn about other realities, not only Hispanic cultures.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Graphic Novels about the Spanish Civil War

I have introduced several graphic novels before in this blog. I find that they are very good at motivating students to read. Moreover, they deal with very interesting topics and the exciting graphics entice reluctant readers to begin reading too.

The topic of the Spanish Civil War has not been a very popular topic for the graphic novels until recently. During Franco´s regime, the Spanish Civil War was a theme which many authors did not want to deal with out of fear for the censorship. After Franco´s death in 1975, Spanish society wanted to forget the dark times and enjoy the recently recovered freedom. It seemed that speaking about the Spanish Civil War would open old wounds. However, in the late 1980´s and 90´s a new generation of Spanish people and young writers started to ask questions about our past, about the fate of many Spanish citizens who were killed during the war or during Franco´s dictatorship or had to exile to another country. It was in many cases the grandchildren of these dead or exiled people who started to ask questions.

In this link from online newspaper, Público, we can get information about some comics about the Spanish Civil war, the exile of the republicans or the fate of those who lost the war and stayed in Spain during the almost 40 years of Franco´s regime. Also in this post in the blog Alita News there is recommended list of graphic novels set on the Spanish Civil War.

Although I have not read some of the suggested graphic novels that appear in the two given links, my suggestion for a Spanish Bilingual or IB program is:

Tristísima ceniza by Mikel Begoña and Iñaket. This novel recreates the story of Frank Capa and Gerda Taro when they meet in Paris after fleeing their home countries after the rise of anti-Semitism. From there they decide to travel to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War. Gerda will travel to Barcelona and Capa to the Basque country. In the novel we follow Capa´s journey to Sollube battle just before the take of Bilbao, the biggest city in Northern Spain, by the Francoist army. Capa meets Luis Lezama in one of his trips to the front to take pictures. Luis had just been freed  by the Republican government and was going to join Franco's side again. This graphic novel can serve as a companion to those interested in learning about the lives of the photojournalists who went to Spain.

El Ángel de la Retirada deals with the lives of  the Spanish who went into exile after the Spanish Civil War. The authors, Spanish artist, Paco Roca, and French novelist and poet, Serguei Dounovetz, wanted to portrait the feelings of the descendants of those republicans who, after so many years, still have many unanswered questions about what happened.

Victoria is a young French with Spanish ancestry. She lives in Béziers, a small city in Southern France which is celebrating in 2009 the 120 years anniversary of the Spanish colony. Through Victoria´s eyes we understand the feelings of these people still struggling to find their own identities and trying to keep their roots in France. Through her dreams we experience the history of the Spanish diaspora to France. It started over 100 years ago when Spanish peasants went to pick up grapes and continued after the Spanish Civil War. When the refuges arrived in France, they were sent to concentration camps under very harsh conditions. This was the beginning of 1939 and when the Second World War started months later, many of these Spanish prisoners were forced to join the French army and fight the Nazis. The past and present of the Spanish colony are shown through Victoria´s eyes and her own experience.

This is a very interesting graphic novel that deals with very important issues and shows, one more time, the unfair treatment the Republican refugees received. Unfortunately, as we have know, history continues to repeat itself and today, thousands of refugees are unfairly treated all over the world. I also find very  meaningful the fact that the novel has been created by a Spanish artist, Paco Roca, and the script by French writer, Serguei Dounovetz .

Un Largo Silencio by Miguel Gallardo is a unique graphic novel in many ways. It is a homage of the author to his father, Francisco Gallardo, who fought with the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War and only spoke to his family about his traumatic experience after Franco's death in 1975. It is the same case as many Spanish people who were silent for too long. The book contains cartoons by Miguel Gallardo which are interlaced with the texts that his own father wrote depicting his memories from his childhood in a small village, going through his involvement in  the Spanish Civil War and his exile in the concentration camps in France. At the beginning of the 1940's he returned to Spain and was imprisoned again until, thanks to some friends' help, he could settle in Barcelona and get a job. The story finishes when Francisco meets his future wife. Miguel Gallardo kept his father's writing without any further editing. The result is a fresh and emotional account of his experience.

It is an easy novel to read that shows life in Spain before the arrival of the Republic. An impoverished society with deep differences among the classes. Then we follow Francisco through his struggle in the Spanish Civil War and his exile in France. A beautiful story full of tenderness and filial love. It would be my first suggestion for anyone learning about the Spanish Civil War.

Interview to Miguel Gallardo talking about his work.