They say that necessity is the mother of invention. This idea, that certain needs or a specific lack of resources breeds the creative process, explains, in part, how I became an artist. This may also explain how, in addition to being a painter and having a Master’s in art education, I became a Spanish teacher after immigrating to the United States when I was 28 years old.
There are huge challenges in having a double career: a double set of achievement goals, half the time to dedicate to each profession and the endless rush to fulfill the demands of both, while feeling that one is not doing well enough in either of them. For a long time, I taught Spanish during part of the day and after that, painted throughout the evening. I also created large parts of my body of work at every artist-in-residency program where I was accepted.
After a long period of teaching Spanish, drawing and painting simultaneously but separately, my exploration into better ways to teach led me to another craft: illustration. I started combining my skills by drawing mnemonic tricks for my Spanish students, spontaneously and as needed during the lessons.
For years, I never thought much of these rough drawings. I was, in a sense, forced to create them, as I could not find in any book or online source, anything that showed what I was trying to explain, in the way that I meant it.
My visual thesis, Memorable Language Snapshots is a set of mnemonic materials designed to help anglophones learn Spanish. It is the result of combining my artistic and pedagogical skills and the culmination of a creative process that has been informed by twenty years of teaching Spanish combined with my life-long art practice.
These illustrations are flashcards that will complement any already existing textbook, audiovisual learning tool or workbook. These images will help students avoid common pitfalls and remember sounds and concepts more vividly. They are part of a set of 48 mnemonic tools that I will complete by early 2022. I designed all the elements in them in a way that they could be turned into a book or used as part of an app.
Some of the language-acquisition issues that these mnemonics target are phonemic associations (how people recognize and apply sounds), cognates (words that come from the same origin and have similar meanings), usage of certain verbs (pedir vs. preguntar, for example) and other aspects of language acquisition that are easier to understand and memorize in visual terms.
As a lover of nature and all animals, and as an artist who treasures every opportunity to evoke this love through my art, I enjoyed creating the animal characters in these illustrations. I trust that they convey the tenderness and sense of humor that I intended to give them and that everybody finds them as endearing as I do.
My fondest memories of learning English as a second language come from a few creative teachers who used funny materials with illustrations. I hope that my work contributes to some Spanish learners’ fondest memories too.