Faculty Learn Spanish To Prepare for International Students
It’s 8:30 a.m., and the 18 students in Deb Dougherty’s Spanish class
slowly make their way into SAC 309, find their seats and prepare for
the Alma College professor’s greeting.
“Buenos dias!” says Dougherty. “Buenos dias!” responds the group.
The classroom looks normal, but these students are not typical. They are all Alma College faculty from a range of disciplines — the arts to the hard sciences — who enthusiastically volunteered to take the three-day-a-week, two-semester long class titled “Spanish for Faculty.”
Faculty members Peggy Thelen, Will Nichols and Carrie Parks-Kirby practice their Spanish.
The class was made possible by a $250,000 grant from the
McGregor Foundation for “Internationalizing the Alma Experience,” a
program designed to enhance the partnership between Alma College and
Equatorialis University, an English-language liberal arts institution
in Quito, Ecuador.
When Alma College welcomes future Ecuadorian students as part of an articulation agreement between the two institutions, more Alma faculty will be able to identify with some of the difficulties the students may face.
“My colleagues are learning to exchange pleasantries and communicate on a general level with Spanish-speaking people,” says Dougherty. “There is also the empathy factor. When they get non-native-speaking students in class in the future, they will understand how hard it really is to learn in a different linguistic and cultural environment.”
Deb Dougherty, in command of her class.
The faculty-students are reporting a positive experience, even if they were a bit apprehensive about their role reversal.
“Deb Dougherty is doing a great job of working with us,” says class member Peggy Thelen, assistant professor of education. “She is patient and has a great sense of humor, which I think you need with this group. Deb has set up the curriculum so that the pace is good, not too stressful, for us. She is mindful that we have a lot of other obligations. She has done a lot of work for this class, which I appreciate. The other ‘students’ are a lot of fun to learn with.”
Thelen, typical of many of her classmates, signed up for the class to better prepare her for future travel to Spanish-speaking countries. Last year she took a student group to Argentina.
“I was not apprehensive at all to learn Spanish, but I was apprehensive about the time commitment, required to take this class,” she says. “I will probably go back with students to Argentina at some point, and with the college's relationship with Ecuador, I can foresee a trip there, as well.”
Dougherty uses simulated immersion teaching techniques, such as role-playing and drill work to practice grammatical structures. For one exercise, the “students” were asked to mingle, introduce themselves, and collect phone numbers — all in Spanish.
“The way I’m teaching is very purpose driven,” says Dougherty. “I’m not laying the foundation for Spanish majors and minors. Rather, the goal is to prepare these faculty members to have the ability to converse in Spanish on their own without relying on a colleague or interpreter.”
The faculty participants come from many academic disciplines, including art, biology, exercise and health science, education, music, psychology, mathematics, sociology, economics, environmental studies, communication and chemistry.
Later this spring, the faculty will travel to Quito for a two-week immersion in a Spanish-speaking culture, living with host families and collaborating with Ecuador faculty on curricular development and research opportunities.
Alma College has maintained a relationship with the Academia Latino Americana in Quito for several years, with a number of Alma students traveling there to develop their Spanish language skills. The Academia’s board of directors expanded educational offerings there in 2008 with the creation of Equatorialis University, which will offer degrees in business administration and environmental science.
Alma College and Equatorialis officials are pursuing an articulation agreement that will allow qualified students from the Ecuador institution — as many as 50 by 2012 — to complete their senior year on the Alma campus.
Posted: Thu, February 12th, 2009 at 4:23PM