Small Steps at Hoy

As readers of this space know,  I am just about four months into my new job at Hoy.

It’s been a huge challenge and major pleasure.

While I had taught myself to speak Spanish to a certain level of competence before I started, I learned quickly how far I had to go to become truly proficient in speaking, reading and writing.

I’ve seen the progress I’ve made in the first two, and the third has been the hardest thus far.

For the first few months, my strategy has been to write in English first, take a stab at translating, put the remainder in Google Translate, do my best to edit what turns up, give it to my colleagues and wait for their eyebrows to raise in confusion and the “Non entiendos” to start.

I’ve been publishing work since my fourth week at Hoy, and have been sticking with this method throughout.

The upside is that I’ve started writing earlier than I had predicted.

The downside of course is that I’m not truly learning to write as well as I could.

In the past couple of weeks, Fernando has been pushing me to start writing in Spanish first.

Today, I did that, for a new section we are about to launch tomorrow.

I don’t want to get into too many details, as to do so would potentially spoil the surprise of what we are doing, and the big thing for me was that I wrote a 500-word piece that, to be fair, included a number of quotes, in less than an hour.

I know Octavio’s going to look at it tomorrow morning.  I know my vocabulary remains quite limited.  And I know that my sentences in Spanish have as their goal simple communication, rather than art or evoking emotion.

Yet I also know that I did it, that I pushed myself and that I continue to make small steps in areas that I have not done before.

Of the many gifts that Paul Tamburello gave me, one of the biggest was a framework to be able to understand progress.

He would do this by pointing out to students that they had written three sentences in a paragraph whereas a month earlier they had only written two.

He would have the students chart their progress on the Timed 100s, showing them that their times would go down while their scores would go up.

This way of marking progress that at times can seem invisible when one is seeking a destination has stayed with me since.

While I did not think consciously of my time in his fourth grade classroom while writing the piece today for Hoy, that framework has become like a familiar piece of clothing that fits easily onto my body.

I’ll go back tomorrow to learn more and, perhaps, to write more.

But as I prepare to stretch and to wind down for tonight, I do so with the knowledge that I today moved toward greater levels of sufficiency and proficiency in a language I taught myself and in which I often cannot believe it is my good fortune to work.



4 responses to “Small Steps at Hoy

  1. David Russell

    Wonderful to hear your news, Jeff. It has got to be very challenging to keep yourself going at such a daunting task, but then again, I´d be surprised if you didn´t! Yes, if you can see small progress you know more and more can come.

    I´ve been in South America the past week and a half with my family, and this experience helps me understand better what you are writing about. People who are truly bilingual are amazing to me. And I notice among people with English as their second language here all the different layers of language proficiency that there are. It is unbelievable to me that you are becoming a Spanish language newspaper writer. Some of my thoughts on this issue and my encounters in Chile and Argentina you can check in a guest post I just finished in my daughter´s blog. The link is
    Best to you and the clan and I´ll call you when I get back in about a week.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks so much, Dave, for your kind words and encouragement. I very much enjoyed your guest blog and will feature it on my site, too.

      I’m glad that you are all having such a rich and memorable experience.

      Love to your crew from ours.


  2. The framework works for both teacher and student, Jeff. For me, learning to give specific feedback rather than general was a pivotal change. I began to look at a kid’s output differently, not only academic but social and emotional growth. I became more present. The noticing and acknowledging small signs of growth were a framework gave me the feeling that I was making headway with the kids in the class and gave them the assurance that I knew them, that I was paying attention. It sounds like you’re very ‘present’ in your own learning curve…and generous in including me in the process.
    Thank you!

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      That’s a very important and profound point that I had not really considered-that marking the students’ progress was a way to assess your teaching.

      You keep on doing it, my man.

      Thank you!


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