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Students swear off English for a weekend of cultural and language learning

By Nisha Ajmani Wade '02

More than 50 students spent a weekend last November away from campus, immersed in study, experiencing great conversation and cultural exchanges at a camp on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula. And not a word of English was spoken.

Spanish Immersion Weekend, which started in 2002 and is organized by Spanish faculty, allows students to take what they learn in class and use it in real life situations. Whether in the dining hall, bunks or in groups, they speak only Spanish for the weekend, while enjoying authentic cuisine, guitar concerts and salsa dancing.

They also crafted papel picado, Hispanic designs cut out of paper commonly used at parties in Latin America, and molas, tapestries originally made by the Kuna Indians in Panama.

“It’s a great opportunity because you learn so much about culture – on top of all the vocabulary,” said Bethany Frerichs ’06.

Brie Chamberlain '05, left, and Ira Station prepare ensaladas mixtas, part of an authentic Spanish meal.

Participants begin the weekend by signing a contract declaring their commitment to speaking only in Spanish.

“All the things we try to do in the classroom come together,” said Emily Davidson ’98, instructor of Spanish. “The students realize what they’re capable of.”

“You impress yourself,” Frerichs said. “It gives you more confidence and makes you less wary about making mistakes – it’s two whole days, you’re going to make mistakes.”

Tamara Williams, chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures and professor of Spanish, said the weekend gives students confidence in their skills, encouraging them to study abroad. “It is the first real test that they can in fact survive in the language,” she said.

Some of the Spanish students live in Hong International Hall, which also focuses on immersing students in language and culture. The hall houses five languages – Chinese, French, German, Norwegian and Spanish – and is a hub for campus activities focused on language, culture and international issues.

For Sean Roach ’08, the weekend helped him prepare for a Costa Rica J-Term trip. “I surprised myself that I was able to handle it so well,” he said. “It’s a good environment for it. Everybody realizes we don’t have the experience.”

Those with experience return to help out the newer students. “Seeing how much I improved in one weekend helped me decide to go abroad,” Rachel Curry ’06 said. “I came back to help others who are here now.”

The students said being committed to the language opens their eyes, giving them a different perspective on the world. “You’re not just learning a language, you’re learning about a culture,” Roach said. “And that gives you a world view.”

According to Curry, the students benefit from the professors being from a variety of regions, like America, Spain and Mexico, because they each bring in their knowledge of different cultures.

Part of the experience is getting to know the professors on a personal level. Frerichs and Lindsey Paxton ’07 agree that laughing with the professors – and being able to understand the jokes – makes things more fun.

Students are impressed with the professors’ commitment to teaching. “Other universities don’t have professors who will take a weekend out of their personal time to give us the opportunity to learn,” Paxton said.

Each year, the entire Spanish faculty attends the weekend and they all agree it improves their relationship with the students. “They realize how much we love teaching them and how much we care about the program,” Davidson said.

While no other language currently offers a program like this one, Williams hopes to see it happen in the future. “It’s a great success,” she said. “The students talk about how much their confidence increases.”



© Scene 2005  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Spring 2005

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