¡Hola! I am María Blanco, founder of SMART-Learning for Spanish, Senior Lecturer in Spanish at the University of Westminster, and Teacher Trainer at the Instituto Cervantes London.
I started doing research on language learning strategies in 2000, while doing my MA at the UCL Institute of Education and working at the University of Westminster. I was interested in the topic because I thought that, if I could learn about effective ways of learning languages, I could pass on what I learned to my students. Teaching study skills in Spain years before had shown me how students’ motivation, academic performance, and self-confidence improved dramatically after a short training session on “how to study effectively”.
So I was interested in exploring the possibility of teaching language learning strategies to my students of Spanish as a Foreign Language. At the same time, I was having my own issues with learning English: it was taking much longer to feel at ease with the language than I’d expected, and I was looking for ways of making progress without so much struggle.
After completing my MA, I started piloting activities where I would ask students to reflect on their learning and introduce them to strategies for effective, enjoyable, and self-directed learning. The students’ feedback was excellent: it reassured me that I was on the right track and motivated me to keep going, to keep developing more activities and materials. It was also rewarding to see how students improved in their motivation, Spanish language skills, and self-confidence, amongst many other things.
A few years later, I began sharing my experience of teaching language learning strategies with language teachers. I published two articles and started giving training workshops to teachers in secondary, adult, and higher education. Again, I received positive feedback. Teachers showed a lot of interest and were highly appreciative of the workshops. Their feedback gave me the final impetus to set up SMART-Learning for Spanish.
Recently, I published my book, “SMART Ways for Learning SPANISH”, in which I present key language learning principles and strategies that have produced very good results with hundreds of my students as well as in my own learning of English. The principles and strategies are also informed by studies from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology.
In the past few years, I have coached and trained language students and teachers in the UK, Spain, and Germany. I very much enjoy seeing the good results and getting positive feedback from both students and teachers. I hope many more students and teachers from around the world will attend and benefit from SMART-Learning for SPANISH future coaching and training events.
Work experience and qualifications
I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Spanish at the University of Westminster, and a Teacher Trainer at the Instituto Cervantes London. Before joining Westminster in 2002, I had worked extensively as a Spanish Teacher and Examiner in British and Spanish educational institutions and business organisations.
I gained my BA (Hons) in Education at the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (Spain), and later completed an MA in Modern Languages in Education at the University College of London Institute of Education (UK). I am also a certified Spanish Language Teacher and Online Tutor (International House), Teacher Trainer (EUROLTA), DELE Examiner (Instituto Cervantes London), and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). I have been trained in language learning strategies at the University of Minnesota and in coaching skills at The Coaching Academy.