Using the Content

I’ll be honest, I hate making quizzes and tests. Usually the content is either very artificial, or mostly unrelated to the material we’re covering in class. Well, I decided to make a quiz and to use Content from SpinTX. And I was very pleased to be able to find content that related to both the grammar and the vocabulary that we are covering in class! I had the students watch one of the videos (611) and answer questions about tolerance and the subjunctive, and then I had them read a modified version of the text from another video (635) and fill in the blanks with the correct vocabulary and verb conjugations, and then had them read a shortened version of the text from yet another video (1575) that contains a lot of the vocabulary we are going over and had them react to the text using the subjunctive with emotion/reaction, doubt/negation, and will/wish/desire. The quiz went very well, and I think that it definitely was more interesting for both myself and the students than a normal textbook-based quiz.

The tricky part was, of course, finding the videos that had high concentrations of the vocabulary and grammar that we are going over. I’ll admit that I cheated a little since I have access to the text files for all of the video clips and have some scripting knowledge. I wrote a script in Python that went through and counted the number of times each vocabulary item and grammar point that we are covering is used in each video, and then looked through the top ten hits to pick the three videos that I wound up using. And I also modified the content somewhat of two of the videos in order to increase the concentration of relevant content. But I think that it was definitely worth the little extra effort that it took to have a quiz of such a higher caliber.


Our assigned topic for one day of class was immigration. On this day the provided activities mostly consisted of the students discussing black-and-white pictures of immigrants entering the US and various Spanish-speaking countries. Instead I decided to use SpinTX so that the students could talk about immigration that would hopefully be easier for them to relate to. I searched for inmi* in order to find all videos in which the Spanish word inmigración was explicitly mentioned. I then narrowed down the search to only videos that contained the present subjunctive since that was the grammar topic we were covering in conjunction with immigration. I then selected the six videos that I thought would work best and assigned one to each of the six groups in my class. I prepared a separate Google Form for each group with the link to their specific video.

On the day of class I gave the students the links to the forms for their groups and then gave them half an hour to prepare 5 questions for their classmates to answer while watching the videos. During their preparation time I walked around and heard several very good conversations going on about the videos and immigration. After all the groups were ready we watched the videos as a class with the questions displayed next to them. The students seemed very interested in the videos and in trying to answer the questions. Having taught this class before using the activities provided in the textbook, I can say that this time with SpinTX the class went much better! In the sense that the students were more interested, more active, and there was much better discussion.

“Gustar-Type Verbs” with the Subjunctive

For this activity I had students break into groups 4 and then search for the subjunctive following the triggers (“gustar-type verbs”) that we were looking at in class. So, for example, they searched for examples of the subjunctive after molestar by doing a keyword search for molest*. I had them search for five examples using five different trigger words, and they had to identify the indirect object, verb and subject of each example.

There was a lot of laughter involved with this activity, which I always take as a good sign. Mostly they were laughing at vocabulary that they had never seen before but for which they could still guess the meaning, such as ‘bailarina’. I think that they were excited to see that they could actually understand real Spanish. They also came across some great examples that they had not fully understood but which they thought that they had understood, so this was definitely beneficial. One common example of this was when the subject of a gustar-type verb was a verb phrase that contained multiple singular nouns or a plural noun (This example is not from the corpus: Me molesta recibir cartas). When confronted with these examples they began to ask why molestar was conjugated in the singular instead of the plural, which led to what I believe was a helpful discussion.

Bringing Authentic Spanish Videos into the Classroom

This weekend COERLL attended the Texas Foreign Language Association Fall 2013 Conference. Our presentation on SpinTX featured two excellent Spanish teachers/curriculum developers: Tina Dong (Instructional Coordinator, World Languages at Austin ISD), and Jared Abels (Secondary Spanish Instructor, Round Rock Christian Academy). Each of them shared some great ideas for incorporating SpinTX videos in the classroom. Check out the presentation, below:

SpinTX to the Rescue

During my intermediate Spanish class last Friday we got through the material somewhat faster than I was anticipating.  We were going back over the subjunctive and its different uses (our textbook discusses 6).  Anyway, we were finished with the material with about 15 minutes left to go from our 2-hour class so I had to think fast.  I told my students to go to SpinTX and look up two real-life uses of the subjunctive that illustrate two of the six different uses of the subjunctive that we had discussed, and that they could leave as soon as their group showed me their examples and told me which functions they illustrated.  Needless to say my students jumped right in!  While I watched them work I was very pleased to see them having good discussions about how the subjunctive was being used on the site.  They had absolutely no difficulty in using the site, and each of their identified uses were spot on.  The first group finished after about eight minutes and the last group was almost finished when class officially ended.  I felt that this was a very successful activity at exposing them to the subjunctive and they were happy to have the chance to leave early, so it was a nice win-win.  I will very probably do this again if I’m ever stuck with 15 or so minutes left at the end of a class.

SpinTX in use in an intermediate Spanish class

I have used the SpinTX pedagogical video archive in my intermediate Spanish class three times so far this semester and I thought that I’d share a little about what I did and how it worked out.

The first time we were talking about stereotypes in class.  I selected a video ahead of time that I felt was applicable (clip from the interview with Nancy T.)  and then showed it to my students twice in class.  The first time they watched it without captions and the second time they watched it with captions.  I had them listen for all of the stereotypes mentioned in the video.  They seemed very interested in watching the video and we had a good discussion afterwards.

The next time we used SpinTX the class was divided into groups and each group had to look for a video that illustrated real use of adjectives that change meaning depending whether they are preceded by ser or estar, which we had just covered in class.  Then they had to explain why ser or estar was used with each example that they found.  Every group was able to find something to share within 5 minutes; sharing took another 5 minutes.  They really seemed to like the fact that they were looking at real-life examples.

The third time I had my students search for and explain examples of the pluperfect and the present perfect on SpinTX.  These aren’t tagged yet so I had them search for había/habías/habían/habíamos or he/has/ha/hemos/han respectively and then skim the results for hits.  They had about 10 minutes to find and explain two examples of each compound tense.  These are not the most exciting verb tenses, so up to that point that day class had been pretty lethargic.  But their interest was obviously piqued as they searched SpinTX for the examples, and there was even sporadic laughter as they came accross certain examples.  They worked in groups of 4 and wrote down their sentences and explanations on pieces of paper that they turned in after finishing.  I was impressed with how well they were able to apply what we had covered in class that day to recognize and explain correctly examples of the pluperfect and present perfect so quickly!

One final anecdote.  At one point during one of these activities one of my students noticed that the speaker was using “educado” to mean “educated” rather than “mannered”.  She pointed this out and we had a very good, brief discussion about how there is a “standard” Spanish that we teach in class and many different dialects that vary from this standard in different ways.  The entire class was very interested, I think especially since it was one of their own who had noticed the discrepancy.

As these anecdotes illustrate the use of SpinTX in my intermediate Spanish class has been very easy and successful so far this semester!  I have already planned several more activities involving SpinTX throughout the remainder of the semester.

SpinTX Project Featured in COERLL Summer Webinar Series

In June, 2013 the SpinTX project was the subject of a professional development webinar offered by COERLL.

From the webinar description:

In the final installment of COERLL’s summer webinar series, we’ll unpack one of our most recent projects, SpinTX. SpinTX is a video archive that provides access to selected video clips and transcripts from the Spanish in Texas Corpus, a collection of video interviews with bilingual Spanish speakers in Texas. We will hear from project members who will show you how to use SpinTX to search and tag the videos for features that match your interests, and create and share your favorite playlists.

Preparing to conduct and film an interview

Post by Scott Zuniga, video production consultant for the Spanish in Texas Project

A great interview can be an excellent source of research, especially when the interview includes both audio and video. This article discusses the steps we took for planning, conducting and filming interviews for the Spanish in Texas video archives.

Step 1: Start with a Plan

This might seem obvious, but often, amateur interviewers fail to prepare for an interview beyond writing a list of questions that they think will draw interesting answers from their subject. It is your job as the director to think through all possible scenarios and to prepare to conduct your interview in a way that will help you achieve your objectives. Think about the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of each interview that you will be conducting and write them down on an interview plan template.

Step 2: Know Your Objectives

Chances are, you will be conducting an interview to fulfill a specific purpose, or “main objective.” You need to identify this objective and write it down on your interview plan and communicate it with your team so that everyone is clear about what to do when obstacles arise. Having a clear objective will help you make the right creative and technical decisions throughout the interview process. Think about your next interview or an interview you have done in the past and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of my interview? (i.e. to get audio samples for research, produce authentic video for language learning, etc.).
  2. What audience is my interview intended for?
  3. Where will my interview be shown?
  4. What should you do to prepare for my interview?
  5. What should I do to prepare my subject for the interview?
  6. How should my interview sound? (Be as specific as possible)
  7. What should my interview look like? (Draw a storyboard of what you want your shot to look like – stick figures are ok).

The main objective for the Spanish in Texas video archive was to create a database of videos with samples of Spanish spoken in Texas for use by educators and linguists. Knowing this helped student interviewers work to get the best sound quality possible. This is just one example of how know what your main objective can help.

Step 3: Prepare for the Interview

Now that you’ve made a plan, contacted interviewees and have prepared your questions, it’s time to prepare to conduct the actual interview. It’s good to do practice with a friend or at least ask the questions out loud to yourself and try to anticipate the answers your interviewees will have. This will help you prepare for follow up question.

Good follow up questions are essentials to conducting a fluid interview that allows the interviewee to give thoughtful answers. Here are a few more tips that we used to prepare for our Spanish in Texas interviews, hopefully they will help you too:

Prepare yourself for the interview

  • Memorize questions to avoid looking at notes during interview. Reading your questions in order might not always be best depending on what your interviewee is saying.
  • Make copies of consent forms and questionnaires.

 Prepare your subject for the interview

  • Ask for their permission. It is good to have your subject fill out consent forms and questionnaires before hand so you don’t risk forgetting this important step.
  • Explain to your subject the purpose and intent of your project.
  • Tell them what to wear. No stripes, necklaces or noisy earrings. Don’t worry, you’re the director. The more confident and professional you come across, the more your interviewee will respect you and give you a good interview.
  • Ask interviewee to reserve a quiet room and tell them politely that the sound is very important.
  • Verify the appointment with interviewee the night before.

Prepare your equipment for the interview

  • Charge batteries
  • Do a test run
  • Review checklist of equipment (Batteries charged, Memory cards cleared, Microphones have spare batteries, headphones, tripod).

Following these steps will help you prepare for a successful interview. The more time you spend planning and anticipating for the interview, the more confidence you will have during the actual interview. Many unexpected things can happen during an interview, but if you are well prepared, you will be able to avoid mistakes, make the right creative choices and help you capture the perfect interview.

Using VISL Constraint Grammar to pedagogically annotate oral text

We are using VISLCG3 to annotate with pedagogically relevant information the transcripts of our oral video clips. VISLCG3 is open source software under a GNU General Public License that implements a finite-state machine that allows for the linguistic analysis of text in so-called local contexts using hand-crafted rules.

VISLCG3 (CG3 for short) can be used mainly for three types of operations: replace information related/assigned to a word, remove information assigned to a word (by a previous module, e.g., a dictionary look-up module), or add information to a word. For the purpose of our project we are mainly using CG3 to add information, that is, to add pedagogically-relevant annotations to texts (oral transcripts) that have previously been tagged with basic linguistic information such as lemma and part-of-speech with TreeTagger (this deserves a separate post). We are also using it to do some post-editing of the tagging, since our tagger systematically makes certain decisions with which we do not agree.

The two operators that we most frequently use are ADD and ADDRELATION. They perform similar actions: They both add one piece of information to the reading of a particular word. The only difference is that the former can be applied to phenomena that extend over one word (cohort, using CG3’s terminology), while the latter can be applied to phenomena that extend over two cohorts or more — optionally with words inbetween. This annotated phenomena are correlated with an internal Pedagogical Typology (still in progress) which we elaborated by extracting linguistic and communicative topics often found in Spanish textbooks.


The following rules exemplify how we used ADD and ADDRELATION to pedagogically annotate our corpus. The first two are pretty straightforward rules, the third one is a relatively more complex rule and gives the reader an idea of the power of formalisms such as CG3.

  • ADD (@Prag:MarcadoresDisc:Probabilidad) Adverbio IF (0 Quizas);

The above rule states that any adverb reading of the word(s) included in the set Quizas (which includes both quizás and quizá and is defined elsewhere in the grammar file) will be assigned the information @Prag:MarcadoresDisc:Probabilidad.

  • ADDRELATION (Gram:SerEstar:EstarAux) VerboEstar IF (0 FiniteVerbForms) TO (1 Gerundio);

The above rule states that any occurrence of the verb estar that is conjugated (that is, finite verb form) and is followed by a gerund will be tagged as an instance of the verb estar being used as an auxiliary R:Gram:SerEstar:EstarAux. The rule establishes and index-based relation between the form of estar and the corresponding gerund.

  • ADDRELATION (Func:Deseos:Ajenos) Verbo IF (0 VerbosExpresarDeseos) (1 Que) TO (*2 Verbo + Subjuntivo BARRIER GrupoNominal OR LimiteOracionSimple OR FiniteVerbForms);

The above rule states that any instance of a verb included in the list VerbosExpresarDeseos (which is defined elsewhere and includes verbs such as gustar, desear, querer…) that is followed by a que and also followed by a verb in subjunctive mood should be annotated as an instance of a way of expressing desire. The rule uses operators such as the Kleene star (*) or the special word BARRIER to give more flexibility to the actual location of the verb (not necessarily right after the que), but also controls that there is no crossing over of certain linguistic itmes such as conjunctions or sentence delimiters to guarantee that the rule stays within a safe scope. The tag that the rule maps is R:Func:Desesos:Ajenos to the actual verb and an index records the direction of the relation with the subjunctive verb (note the TO).