In episode 42, Stacey interviews Daniel Woolsey, an associate professor of Spanish at a liberal arts college in Michigan, who teaches courses including fourth-semester Spanish and Hispanic linguistics. Daniel explains that language teachers can focus on critical cultural content, let go of explicit grammar instruction, and trust the acquisition process to take place.

In the month of March, we will be focusing on social justice and critical perspectives on language teaching to celebrate the March release of a special issue of Dimension, SCOLT‘s peer-reviewed journal. In this first of five episodes, Daniel Woolsey gets us started by showing that we can let go of grammar and embrace critical cultural content as the core of our classes.

Also check out this EdPuzzle to guide your listening!


Show Notes

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Daniel Woolsey grew up in Santiago, Chile, and earned his Ph.D. in Language Education from Indiana University. He has been teaching Spanish at the college level for twenty years, including courses in Hispanic Linguistics and Language Teaching Methods. Daniel is especially passionate about first- and second-year Spanish courses: bridging SLA theory with teaching practices, and incorporating critical topics from culture, history and literature into beginning levels of instruction. He is co-author of two textbooks for first and second year Spanish courses, Ritmos: Beginning Spanish Language & Culture (2012, 2017) and its forthcoming intermediate counterpart Rostros (2019). Info and free demo of his textbooks can be found at:

For more information and to connect with Daniel, visit his faculty page.

For instructors interested in moving toward content-based communicative teaching, he recommends some resources…

Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen, by James Lee and Bill VanPatten

How Language Are Learned, by Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada

…Bill VanPatten’s podcast Tea with BVP (Daniel loves whatever BVP is doing!)

Resources from the show…

…The 2017 conference

more about James Lee, the instructor Daniel mentioned from Indiana University

…MLA 2007 white paper Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World

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6 thoughts on “We Teach Languages Episode 42: Choosing Critical Cultural Content over Grammar with Daniel Woolsey

  1. I just listened to this again and was reminded why the settlement focus in our new arrival English language program in Australia worked so well – teachers and learners had the content of settlement to focus on, and the language development happened alongside.

    But also wondering what teachers do when faced with an adult who doesn’t believe they’re learning language unless they are doing grammar exercises! I just met someone recently who complained that their Italian teacher was not teaching grammar, and so they thought this teacher wasn’t a good language teacher. Sigh 😔

    1. Oh Lesley, this has been my BIG challenge as an adult language teacher. It has taken me years to work through the question, and I am not totally sure I’m there yet, however what I have settled on is having students frequently reflect on their progress. We do weekly timed writings for 10 minutes each, and at the midterm and final, they have to reflect on how their writing has improved. I give them some easy measures for assessment like word count and sentence complexity. And let them tell ME how much their writing has improved. We do pretty much the same with interpersonal speaking. They record inpromptu 3 minute conversations 5-6 times in a semester and at the end have to look back at all the videos and convinced ME that they have improved. It’s still not foolproof, but it’s better.

      I am also putting together a video for my students about how SLA works in the hopes of convincing them early on. Here’s my rough draft: Feedback very welcome!!

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