SE Spanish students enjoy immersion opportunities: Conversation Group teaches practical Spanish

Story By: Brandi Bunch

Managing Editor

It is almost universally acknowledged that the most difficult part of learning a second language is finding a place in which it can be practically applied.

Fortunately, SE students who are choosing to learn Spanish have a way of overcoming this: Dr., or La Profesora, Caryn Witten’s Spanish Conversation Group.

Due to its structuring, the conversation group allows students to actively use Spanish in such a way that the language feels much more organic than it would in a classroom environment; the group allows only Spanish to be spoken while present.

While this may seem daunting to those who are newer to the language, Witten explains that it actually allows for increased comprehension of the words being spoken, even if the student chooses only to listen rather than speak.

It takes approximately 10,000 hours to master a second language, a fact with which Witten is familiar due to having specialized in second language acquisition, so this group serves as an invaluable tool for those students wanting to become more proficient in Spanish.

According to Witten, “An all-Spanish environment benefits students because they must find a way to express themselves using the language they know instead of translating from English. Translating doesn’t work well because a person’s first language is so much more sophisticated then their second language.”

She went on to say “However, with a little bit of second-language knowledge, we can express lots of ideas and concepts in a way that native speakers will understand us. Classroom learning provides the structure and form of a second language, but people need lots of opportunity to put this theory into practice. Attending the Conversation Group helps to develop fluency.”

Students who learn Spanish generally do so in order to be able to converse with native speakers of the language, so this conversational fluency is very beneficial. As Witten puts it, “The more you interact with a foreign language, the more you will learn.”

The Spanish Conversation Group takes place at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoons, in room 304 of the Morrison Building, and all students learning or curious about Spanish are welcome.

Saltillo: A vacation wrapped in a learning experience

Five Southeastern students spent the last three weeks of July studying Spanish in Saltillo, Mexico as part of the Spanish department’s “Summer in Saltillo” immersion program.

Katie Allen, Brody Haddock, Randi McAtee, Jessica Miller and Martin Person attended classes at the Instituto Universario Valle de Santiago, where they spent their mornings studying advanced Spanish grammar and Mexican culture/history and honing their verbal skills in an intensive conversation class. All classes were taught in Spanish by Mexican educators.

Afternoons were spent doing arts and crafts and sightseeing with Mexican tutors/guides. Weekends were spent on excursions to the mountains and small villages surrounding Saltillo. They also lived with non-English-speaking host families.

Southeastern signed an articulation agreement with the Secretariat of Education of the Mexican state of Coahuila in 1998, thus creating an official immersion program for students of the Spanish language, according to Dr. Randy Prus, English, humanities and languages department chair.

Students earn three hours of Southeastern credit for the three-week program. Most participants are Spanish/Spanish education majors or Spanish minors, though Prus said the program is open to any interested student who has successfully completed a minimum of three semesters of college-level Spanish or the equivalent.

Through the years, Prus said this program has played a major role in helping students accelerate the language acquisition process by experiencing firsthand the language and culture of Mexico.

This year’s participants, like their counterparts in other years, enthusiastically endorse the program as a key factor in developing their Spanish skills and broadening their worldview, Prus said. Many participants of this program have maintained contact through the years with their Mexican friends and host families, and some have continued to visit Saltillo from time to time.

The department continues to promote and support the “Summer in Saltillo” program on a yearly basis.