The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2001
¡De viva voz!: Intermediate Conversation and Grammar Review
Michael D. Thomas (2001)
Reviewed by Gregory D. Keating
University of Notre Dame
¡De viva voz! is a series designed for intermediate-level college students with prior knowledge of Spanish from high school or college courses. The primary objective of this series is to promote personalized, meaningful communication in Spanish. Ancillary materials for this text include a listening comprehension pronunciation tape (or CD), a workbook/lab manual, and an audio (cassette or CD) lab program that supports the workbook/lab manual. Only the textbook and the Listening Comprehension CD are reviewed here.
¡De viva voz! is divided into twelve chapters. Each chapter begins with an advanced organizer titled Metas, which outlines the communicative goals and grammatical objectives. The preface to this series underscores the author's intention of intertwining the former and the latter, so that spontaneous, creative communication (and not grammar) becomes the focus of classroom interaction. The text presents and reviews vocabulary and grammar in a progressive way, which makes ¡De viva voz! accessible to students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. Vocabulary and grammar topics are recycled throughout.
Next, a Vocabulario vivo section reviews basic thematic vocabulary and expands on that foundation. Lexical content is usually supported with detailed drawings that provide a direct link between the new vocabulary and the concepts represented. Chapter 1 provides a meticulously detailed drawing of a house and its interior furnishings, while Chapter 8 includes an excellent pictorial representation of the modes of transportation. Many themes, however, are introduced via long (and often exhaustive) lists of Spanish-English vocabulary translations. The family relationships (Chapter 1) could be better presented with a family tree, and the weather expressions (Chapter 5) would be more interesting if accompanied by drawings. Activities following the vocabulary presentation are open-ended and communicative in nature. Students are expected to perform interviews, create dialogues, and do signature searches. Written production in the form of lists and descriptive paragraphs is also emphasized. However, no input activities (reading or listening) are provided to reinforce vocabulary comprehension before moving to production. Chapter 6, for example, introduces food items and then immediately requires students to make a menu (Actividad A, Paso 1) and then use it to create and act out a restaurant scene (Paso 2), but does not provide a sample menu in Spanish or a scenario with common waiter-patron dialogue.
A Mejora tu pronunciación section follows vocabulary presentations and provides helpful phonetic explanations to problems common to English-speaking learners of Spanish, such as the trilled r and the aspiration of English consonants p, t, and k. Explanations are followed by one practice exercise, which can be heard on the supplementary cassette or CD. The exercises utilize vocabulary from the lesson and are adequate for novice learners. The goal of this section is to hone oral skills and conversational proficiency. Unfortunately, the phonetic exercises in this section serve as the only listening activities associated with the text. There are no theme-related activities for in-class listening comprehension practice.
Grammar objectives are presented in a subsequent section titled Estructuras comunicativas. Explicit explanations and lists of rules followed by examples in Spanish are the primary modes of presentation. Other interesting and useful grammar points are interspersed throughout this section in boxes titled Lengua. All grammatical explanations are very thorough and the order of presentation is logical and easily manageable by students with prior knowledge of Spanish. This section tends to be a comprehensive (and sometimes exhaustive) review of rules and usages and often fills three or more pages before arriving at activities. Grammar explanations are followed by four or five creative and entertaining production activities, but without prior input activities.
The grammar sections also contain communicative strategies (Estrategia comunicativa) and cultural notes (Nota cultural), both of which contribute to the oral proficiency goals of the text. The cultural notes are interesting but could be improved by small photos to bring the topics to life. The description of the University of Salamanca in Chapter 2, for example, could be enhanced by a photograph of the institution, and a photo of Evita Perón would make the description of her life more real (Chapter 4). Approximately one third of the cultural notes in this series provide follow-up opportunities for students to react to or do something with the newly acquired cultural information.
Every chapter in ¡De viva voz! culminates in a section titled ¡De viva voz!. The three or four activities in this section serve as a review of themes covered in the chapter as well as a "test" of communicative competence regarding the goals outlined at the outset of the chapter. In most cases the activities are split 50/50 between oral and written production.
A Lectura de interés section follows every even-numbered chapter. The texts chosen are authentic literary selections written by salient Hispanic writers, such as Rosario Castellanos and Horacio Quiroga. Each passage is preceded by two pre-reading activities (Antes de leer) to acquaint students with themes and vocabulary contained in the text. It would have been nice to see these types of input activities in the vocabulary and grammar sections as well. A section titled Después de leer follows each reading and offers one activity to check comprehension, and another to stimulate paired or group discussion.
In general, illustrations are sufficient to complement the contents of the text. The aesthetic appeal of ¡De viva voz!, however, could be greatly improved by the addition of lively color photos. The few photos used in this text are on the first page of each chapter, and are black and white images. Even the maps on pages xix-xxi are black and white. In sum, the ¡De viva voz! program achieves its goal of developing sufficient skills in oral production. However, the development of listening and interpretative skills could be enhanced by the addition of more input activities prior to production exercises.