By Jermaine Wong (20S03R)
Since ‘Despacito’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 2017, the popularity of Spanish pop music—and along with it, Spanish and Latin American pop culture—has skyrocketed worldwide in recent years. However, where most people think of Latin pop music or telenovelas at the mention of Spanish, there is more to discover.
This is because while Spanish in secondary school focuses on building a strong foundation in grammar and vocabulary, the H2 curriculum places greater emphasis on understanding Spanish and Latin American history, culture, and societal issues. Some of the topics that we discussed this year as part of the J1 curriculum include (but are not limited to) Health and Fitness, Education, and Family. These themes were also tested in our Oral, Reading, Essay, and Listening assessments. For example, several essay questions that we covered under the aforementioned topics are:
- ¿Se puede usar el deporte para dar ejemplo a la gente de justicia, de amistad, y de coraje? (Can sports be used to set an example for people of justice, friendship, and courage?)
- “La educación es el arma más poderosa que puedes usar para cambiar el mundo,” Nelson Mandela. ¿Hasta qué punto estás de acuerdo? (“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela. To what extent do you agree?)
- La idea de la familia tradicional no tiene importancia para los jóvenes de hoy. ¿Hasta qué punto estás de acuerdo? (The idea of the traditional family does not matter to the youth of today. To what extent do you agree?)
The J2 curriculum would include the other topics in the H2 syllabus that were not taught in J1, such as the Media, Technological Innovation, and the Environment. For more detailed information on the topic areas covered, you might wish to refer to the 2020 SEAB syllabus for H2 Spanish.
In comparison to Secondary One to Four Spanish, the marking criterion for each component is significantly more stringent as candidates are expected to conduct their own self-directed learning outside of the classroom. To elaborate on the assessment structure:
|Speaking||Reading and Writing||Essay||Listening|
|Duration||~ 20 minutes||1 hour 45 minutes||1 hour 30 minutes||~ 1 hour 15 minutes|
|Total Marks||100 (20+40+40)||70 (30+20+20)||40 (24+16)||50 (10+40)|
- In the Speaking (i.e. Oral) component, we first give a 3-minute presentation on our topic of choice from Section 4 (Topic Areas) of the SEAB syllabus. This is followed by 7 to 8 minutes of Topic Conversation on our chosen topic, and finally, 8 to 9 minutes of General Conversation. The mark allocation is 20 marks for Presentation, and 40 marks for each Conversation.
- The Reading and Writing (i.e. Reading Comprehension) section comprises two passages. Questions related to the first passage consist of Vocabulary Recognition (5 marks), Grammatical Recognition (5 marks), and Open-Ended Questions (OEQs) (20 marks). Questions related to the second passage comprise only OEQs (20 marks). For OEQs, we are not only assessed based on the relevance of our answers to the questions, but also based on our ability to paraphrase the material from the passage—5 out of the 20 marks for each set of OEQs are set aside for Quality of Language. Lastly, we have to summarise and give our personal opinion on both passages in 140 words or fewer (20 marks).
- For the Essay component, we are required to write an argumentative essay of around 250 to 400 words based on the question we have selected. Each of the five questions is related to a different topic listed under Section 4 of the SEAB syllabus, and changes every year. Out of 40 marks, a maximum of 24 marks and 16 marks can be awarded for Quality of Language and Content respectively.
- The Listening Comprehension section is also more challenging, with discussions about complex issues such as scientific findings rather than simple conversations about everyday life. In the first section, we have to fill in blanks, grids, tables, or other diagrammatic aids based on two short conversations (10 marks). In the second, we answer OEQs and are assessed both on Content (30 marks), and Quality of Language (10 marks).
In J2, we will also have several months to work on our Coursework, which should contain two or three pieces of writing totalling approximately 2000 words. There is a lot of creative liberty given with regards to how we can craft our pieces—they can take the form of a poem, a narrative, and more. While adapting to these changes might seem daunting at first, the new class environment would definitely help you to adjust well!
With a small class size of seven, the atmosphere is cosier and more intimate. Lessons are conducted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm, at the Newton MOE Language Centre (MOELC). During a typical lesson, we might play games based on Spanish game shows, watch Spanish movies and TV shows on Netflix, or debate sociopolitical issues surrounding Spanish-speaking countries. Other times, we have even borrowed the kitchen on campus to make Spanish delicacies like torrejas and tortilla de patatas (an omelette made with eggs and potatoes).
At the end of J1, there is also the Overseas Study cum Immersion Programme to Spain for students who received the Language Elective Scholarship (Spanish) (SLES). This year, we will be going to Granada, a city in the south of Spain that is home to the Alhambra, a majestic Moorish palace and fortress complex. To qualify for the SLES, candidates must have attained at least a B3 in Spanish for the O-level examinations (a B-grade is also a recommended prerequisite for taking Spanish at the H2 level). Successful applicants will also receive an annual allowance of $1000 and enjoy subsidised school fees.
Now that we’ve covered the basic details, you might still be wondering: why Spanish? While other arts subjects might seem more practical in terms of future prospects, there are a host of opportunities that await you after your two-year journey in H2 Spanish! After all, it has the second largest number of native speakers in the world (after Mandarin), and is the official language of 21 countries. Furthermore, Spanish is commonly spoken in other countries such as the United States. Hence, being fluent in the language grants you the opportunity to study or work in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries in future.
Nevertheless, the above-mentioned are not the only reasons you should consider taking H2 Spanish. I would say that a strong passion for the Spanish language and culture is more important, as it makes all the (apparent) sacrifices—after-school classes and additional assessments—worthwhile. In fact, you would scarcely pay attention to these aspects if you look forward to attending classes every week. Instead, it is the the laid-back lessons with our teacher, Ms Dunne, and the enjoyable class outings—whether they were to the Mexican Film Festival at NUS or to the KFC at Velocity—that have come to define my H2 Spanish experience.
Ultimately, if you have a strong interest in Spanish and wish to discover more about the rich culture and history surrounding the language, H2 Spanish might just be the right choice for you. So, what are you waiting for? ¡Será pan comido!