Writing excellence in Spanish? ¿Escritura a nivel de excelencia en español?

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Writing excellence in Spanish? ¿Escritura a nivel de excelencia en español?

Kristina L. Bønsager, PhD; Associate Professor of Spanish
Department of International Languages & Literatures

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When considering what writing excellence is in Spanish, my first thought is that it is longer than writing excellence in English, which you can see in the title of this blog, but otherwise it is similar in many ways.  Seriously, though, as a Spanish professor I see writing excellence manifest itself in two central stages of the learning process. First, though I should clarify, as I do regularly for non-academics and on occasion for a handful of colleagues, that my discipline is by nature dual, since we teach both language and literature, and interdisciplinary because we delve into culture, literature, political science, history, art, and economics. Similarly to faculty members in most languages, we guide students through the introductory and intermediate levels of how the Spanish language functions and how to communicate ideas. Then as students’ abilities progress, we introduce more culture and literature to provide context and writing models, until at one point the focus of our teaching and the goal of the students’ language production shifts from learning basic skills to focus on the further development and polishing of writing in response to and analysis of literary and non-literary texts, as well as culture in all its forms.

For students first learning Spanish, excellent writing consists of correctly conjugated verbs that are accompanied by appropriate direct and indirect objects, with properly placed adverbs and adjectives. More advanced students create a sentence that may begin with a prepositional phrase, followed by another well-crafted sentence that combines what earlier in their learning would have been two short sentences with a carefully selected conjunction to produce a complex sentence in Spanish that rivals one the student writes in English. Although the creation of a compound sentence may not be considered “excellent” by some, it is the crowning glory of a language learner and cause for celebration. Equally exciting is that research shows that by learning the intricacies of another language, knowledge and understanding of one’s first language increase, which directly correlates to improved writing skills in English, for example.

Excellence in writing for an upper level student of Spanish resembles that of a student writing in English and can be found in analytical and creative forms. When writing a critical essay, students evaluate their topic, explore a research question, develop a thesis statement, construct a supportive argument, form logical transitions, and finish with a well-designed conclusion. Although the written product that the students submit for evaluation will be deemed excellent, good, fair, or needs improvement, the process itself and the students’ decision to pursue this road less traveled of writing in another language should be commended and encouraged. The experience in its entirety progresses simultaneously in two or more languages, as students consider their sources, word selection, phrasing, expression, punctuation, and citation.

As you can see, the evaluation of writing by a Spanish professor involves many aspects, from linguistic accuracy to critical analysis, and includes many points in between. Excellence in writing is a developed skill that does not come easily to most. So, you may be wondering just how often this level of excellence appears in our classrooms. Admittedly, it is not as frequent as I would like; however, that fact does offer a bit of job security, as well as an ongoing challenge to mentor students in their journey from good writing to the realm of excellent writing. It is an enjoyable and rewarding expedition, which starts with learning another language, progresses through exploration of culture and literature, parallels critical thinking in English, and culminates in students’ ability to express their ideas at an elevated level with grammatical accuracy and extensive vocabulary.  This is writing excellence in Spanish.