Most visitors to a foreign country spend more time asking for directions and ordering food than they spend discussing great works of literature.
That’s why LSA sophomore Laura Hlebasko wants to help make the University’s Spanish classes more conversational.
“Many students wish to learn a lot more colloquialisms and to converse with people,” she said. “You know, you’re not going to go to a foreign country and talk about Don Quixote.”
In an effort to move Spanish courses in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts away from their traditional focus on analyzing written works, Hlebasko has spoken with several professors to see how classes could be more more conversational.
Hlebasko, a member of the LSA Student Government’s Academic Affairs Committee, said she surveyed the University’s existing Spanish programs and found the Residential College’s system to be “fantastic.”
The RC’s Spanish program offers Tertulia, or Spanish coffee hours, four times a week to encourage students to speak Spanish in informal situations. Several students and teachers usually attend the meetings.
Students enrolled in the program are expected to attend Tertulia regularly and are permitted to bring other Spanish-speaking faculty and friends, according to the program’s website.
“In these situations, students do not feel the pressure of getting the right or wrong answer, or to do so within time constraints, as in the classroom,” said Olga Lopez-Cotin, who heads the RC Spanish program.
“This is the closest reproduction to an immersion experience in another country,” Lopez-Cotin said.
Maria Dorantes, who directs the University’s elementary Spanish language program, said LSA once offered such courses. She said students’ poor attendance led officials to stop offering them.
“It becomes the choice of the student whether they want to attend or not,” she said. “And if they’re not attending, we can’t offer them.”
While she said attendance was poor in the program, Dorantes acknowledged that she saw improvement in students’ language skills when they were given the opportunity to speak informally with one another.
“Conversation always helps,” she said, adding that such classes are still offered during the spring and summer terms.
Hlebasko said some other faculty members she spoke with disagreed with her idea for conversation-based classes. She said many mentioned study abroad as a way to have conversations in another language — a notion with which Hlebasko takes issue.
“It shouldn’t be a part of your Spanish education to have to go abroad,” she said. “Not everyone wants that, not everybody has the money.”