The Transylvania Times -

Teacher Discusses Importance Of Second Language – Brevard, NC


December 16, 2019

At the Brevard Academy: A Challenge Foundation Academy Board of Directors meeting Wednesday evening, Bob “Senor Mac” McCarson informed the board about the importance of learning a second language, as well as newer and more efficient techniques to teach students Spanish.

McCarson, who teaches Spanish at the K-8 school, said Hispanics are the largest minority in every county in Western North Carolina except five. He said the Cherokee comprise the largest minority in three Western counties and African-Americans are the largest minority in Rutherford and McDowell counties; however, Hispanics are expected to be the largest minority in the last two counties within a few years.

According to McCarson, Chinese is the most predominant language in the world, followed by English and then Spanish. There are 432 million people who speak Spanish and that number is growing.

“It will soon supplant English,” said McCarson.

McCarson said learning a second language has benefits beyond just knowing that language. He said students who are bilingual are more knowledgeable about their native language and are better at math and music. Jobs that require bilingual skills also are less likely to become automated. Learning a second language stimulates different areas of the brain, as well as making people more open to different cultures and making them more inclusive.

He repeated a phrase attributed to Charlemagne: “To learn a new language is to gain a new soul.”

“It’s very hard to learn a language,” said McCarson, who added that it is easier to introduce and teach a foreign language at the elementary level than the high school level. He said two elementary schools in Buncombe County offer Spanish because they are immersion schools in which students are taught in both English and Spanish. Brevard Academy is the only public elementary school in the county that teaches Spanish.

McCarson said Spanish used to be taught with the audio-lingual method in which the teacher would introduce a phrase, students would repeat the phrase and then they would repeat derivatives of the word, such as the conjugation of verbs.

McCarson teaches using “comprehensible input,” which focuses on fewer words and physical actions associated with the words. When students say the parts of the body, for example, they touch the corresponding body part. The same is true with physical objects, such as doors and books.

“I never tell them in English what I am saying,” said McCarson.

McCarson said there are seven verbs that recur frequently in Spanish. He said if students learn those seven verbs, plus another nine popular verbs, they can talk about almost anything. He said if students know 100 words in Spanish, then they can comprehend 80 percent of the Spanish they read and 88 percent of the Spanish they hear.

McCarson said he does not “shelter” his students from grammar by speaking only in the present tense, but he uses all of the tenses native Spanish-speaking people normally use.

He said people do not learn a language by memorizing a vocabulary list, but by repeated use in normal conversations.

“We didn’t come out of the womb speaking English,” he said.

McCarson said students need to be exposed to the language for 52 hours a year to become proficient. At Brevard Academy, most students receive about 30 hours of Spanish instruction per year.

Nevertheless, McCarson said he has about four students in Spanish I, a high school course, who could “take the test for Spanish II and pass it.”

He added that if students who are now in first grade continue to receive Spanish instruction each year, by the time they are in sixth grade, 40 percent of them would be at the Spanish I level and 25 percent would be at the Spanish II level.

He said students can enhance their Spanish by viewing YouTube videos, such as those by “Senor Wooly,” which is available at

“He’s focused on those 16 verbs,” said McCarson.


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