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The Blue & Gray Press | September 26, 2017

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Faculty learns spanish from bilingual student

By Meg DeMaria

Elena South has been helping her Spanish-speaking relatives learn English since she was a child. This year, as a college senior, she is the first student to teach a Spanish class specifically for faculty.

This program was created in connection with the Student Transition Program (STP) so that faculty members can communicate with students and their families comfortably and effectively.

“A good majority of the students coming to the university as part of the STP are from Latin backgrounds,” South said.

By the end of the semester, South hopes “Academic Services [employees] will be able to hold a professional conversation in Spanish.”

South thinks UMW should embrace other cultures and provide more services in Spanish.

“I was very surprised that there wasn’t already a Spanish speaking person in Academic Services,” she said. “Speaking different languages is an important step for a university to grow and be successful.”

South, an English and Spanish double major, said she had a lot to learn when she began teaching this class in the beginning of the semester.

“I am not in the education program, and had never actually had to teach in a formal setting,” she said. “I was pretty nervous.”

The most time consuming part of the class is creating the weekly lesson plans, according to South.

“Everything is connected, so you have to start with the very basics because if you miss or skip the smallest step, then everything after is not going to make sense,” she said.

The curriculum is tailored to the Academic Services setting, however, which makes it easier for South when deciding what to include in her lessons.

“I have been skipping the types of words and phrases that my class is not going to need in a professional setting. Instead of learning: ‘This is my house. This is my dog;’ we are learning ‘This is my office. This is my desk,” she said.

The class is different from language classes students have to take, according to South, because “everyone wants to be here, no one is being forced. They come because they generally have a want and interest in the language and culture.”

Although there are no actual grades in the class, South still gives tests and quizzes to assess knowledge, progression and understanding and to ensure that no one is left behind.

The fast pace makes this necessary, since, according to South, “what people learn in one semester, we are learning in three [or] four weeks.”

Despite her already full student schedule, the added stress and extra work are worth it to South.

“The greatest part [of this experience] has been when someone I am friends with that works in Academic Services comes up to me and tells me they saw one of the deans in my class practicing their flash cards at their desk between appointments,” she said. “It makes me smile to know that I am actually making a difference in the university.”

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