Verb Cards + Anecdotes + Homespun Warmth = Linguistic Success
By David Bossman
February 21, 2000: Atención
San Rafael 6. It’s Saturday morning at 9 a.m. The two dozen people who were standing around in groups chatting with cups of coffee find their seats as the Maestro makes his way to a small standing blackboard in front of a large, comfortable room.
“Buenos días, clase. Comenzamos!” exclaims the teacher. He´s a well-dressed, middle-aged man with chiseled good looks and a friendly voice. Warren Hardy has begun another Spanish class.
A woman asks a question about the difference between crecer and criar. Verbs. Hardy carefully explains that the former means “to grow” and the latter, “to raise,” as in “raising a child.” He then throws another verb into the mix, crear (“to create”) so that his students have a firm sense of the differences. He writes each on the board and constructs different sentences using each. Before he leaves the topic, he looks around the room and makes sure that each of the adults grasps the distinctions. Then he is ready to move on to his regular verb drill.
Verbs are Hardy’s trademark. With the use of his verb conjugation cards and his well-trained native-born tutors, his successful formula for teaching Spanish has made him almost as well known in San Miguel as the mayor.
“Warren Hardy SpanishTM” as it is officially known, was born in San Miguel nine years ago and has been flourishing ever since. Hardy likes to think of his course as a “foundation builder used to teach the verb structure of the language so that each student can enjoy the Mexican and Hispanic culture while developing fluency.”
Hardy (“Warren” to all his students) is immensely proud of the success rate as reflected by the numbers. “We have no attrition, no drop outs at all. Ninety nine percent of our referrals come from past students,” he explained to me one day.
“Our constituency is the local community and hundreds more who live in the States and Canada. Many of these folks come to take one of our two-week courses, spend some leisure time in San Miguel and upon returning home tell their friends and family (in Spanish of course) about our program. Would you believe that we have over 3000 alumni out there?”
Hardy’s “not-so-secret weapon” is his wife, Tuli. She is the accountant, secretary and the business manager — the person to whom each of Hardy’s tutors or students go when they have non-pedagogical questions. (She also makes some delicious flavored coffee and provides some scrumptious pastry during the breaks).
“We feel it’s important that we provide a homey atmosphere so that each one of our students can learn and absorb in a non-threatening environment. After all, these are adults — some of whom have resisted a second langugage for a long time. Warren tries to make the transition as enjoyable as possible,” Tuli tells me during the break.
For years, on the last day of each course, Hardy has encouraged each student to fill out a course appraisal form asking for suggestions on how to improve his program. Students were overwhelmingly pleased with their own progress in learning various verb conjugations (universally acknowledged as Hardy’s forte) and their use of direct and indirect objects (“He engages you visually, auditorially, and emotionally,” Susan Valaskovic told me in explaining his success. The former president of a consulting firm was speaking as a student. “Warren has an intuitive ability to locate our weaknesses!”).
Not willing to rest on his laurels, however, Hardy read something else into these evaluations; the Maestro sensed that there was a gap that had to be filled somewhere between the intermediate and advanced range. And so it was that the new Intermediate II curriculum was born.
Another student, internationally known geographer Sir Roger Tomlinson, is one of Hardy’s biggest fans. “I have always been into spatial relationships and could never grasp languages. Warren’s methods have removed that block. I found myself in Morocco last year trading French expressions with people there. I was no longer afraid to use the other side of my brain.”
When I repeated Tomlinson’s account to the Maestro, Warren Hardy took a deep breath and beamed that sense of satisfaction that defies even his translation