Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Market Your Language Program to Students at Key Decision Points

by Ann Abbott


As language departments face decreasing enrollments, one thing that we can do is improve our marketing.

When we think of marketing, we often first think about creating slick brochures and websites. The trick, though, is to first define your target audience with precision. Then you have to tailor your message to the benefits that they care about. (What pain do they feel, and how to can you alleviate it?) Finally, you have to know how to get the message to them: where will they see it, how will they find it, and when will it reach them? 

I'll write more about that another day, but for now, I just want to say that many language departments are not effectively marketing to the one set of students they can most easily access: students who are already enrolled in their program. More specifically: you already have the emails of all the students who are enrolled in the last semester of your basic language program so at the very least reach out to them with a message that is tailored to them.

Here's an example. I composed this today and asked the course director to forward it to the students. Ideally, I would have sent this the very first day that students were able to sign up for next semester's classes, but I'll put that on my calendar for the next time.

SPAN 141 & 142 students: keep going!

Dear SPAN 141 and 142 students,

Because you are finishing the last semester of the Spanish basic language sequence, there is so much more that you can do now. Here's a short list:
·         Major in Spanish. If you already have a major, don’t worry. Many of our students realize how important Spanish is within the US and globally, so they decided to do what I call “Spanish +”. They double major. (By the way, when I was an undergrad student many years ago, I double majored in psychology and Spanish, and things have turned out pretty good for me!)
·         Minor in SpanishNot ready to commit to a Spanish major? That’s okay. The Spanish minor is do-able and adds real value to your university experience and future professional life.
·         Study AbroadStudying abroad is often a transformative experience. One of my former students studied a semester in Bilbao; look at what she did and what she learned. If it is at all possible, I highly recommend the year-long program in Barcelona. There’s nothing like a whole year abroad.
·         Register for SPAN 200, 204, 208 and 228SPAN 141 and 142 are equivalents, so whichever course you took, you can register for any of these courses.
·         Explore another language. Students rave about our Portuguese program; you can study one of the most important languages in a program that is rigorous and fun at the same time. Our department offers Catalan and Basque, too.
·         Continue attending Mi Pueblo Sessions. Even if you don't take any Spanish classes in the fall, you are still welcome to attend Mi Pueblo. 
·         Take SPAN 202 with meThe course description makes the course sound much more boring than it actually is! Both SPAN 141 and 142 count as the prerequisite. See the picture below, and read the real description: “Register for SPAN 202, and let's work together next semester to build the skills that professionals need today: Spanish proficiency, cultural competence, global literacy, critical thinking skills, social media marketing experience and practice facilitating group discussions. Everyone says that they're an ideal candidate, but you'll finish with a portfolio that actually proves it. I love teaching, challenging my students while supporting them, providing real-world experiences and maintaining ties long after they have graduated. If this sounds like the kind of course you need and the kind of professor you like, please sign up today and/or share this message with a friend who could benefit.”

Identify the natural points when students make decisions about the next level of your program. Reach them at those points, and use simple yet effective marketing to "pull them" along throughout the entire program.

Here are some decision-making points in our Spanish program. What are the decision making points in yours? Please share in the comments.
  • Some students are only required to take three semesters of a foreign language. In that third semester, we can encourage them to take one more course of the basic language series.
  • Many students on our campus are required to take four semester of basic language courses. During that fourth semester, we can reach out to them and let them know that they have everything they need to start taking courses in the major and minor. And even if they don't want to commit to the major or minor, there are some "fun" classes that they can take, just to keep up their Spanish.
  • When our minors have taken their required 300-level courses, we can show them how easily they can take a few more courses and graduate with a major. 
  • When students are finishing a semester abroad, we can encourage them to take more classes when they come back to campus and finish up a minor or even spring for a major.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Student Reflection

Soy yo en esta foto, delante del salón del segundo grado! Siempre está lleno de actividad.
by Matt Campion


Para mi proyecto comunitario, estoy trabajando como tutor en la escuela primaria Garden Hills. Esta población de estudiantes de esta escuela es muy diversa, con un muchos estudiantes de habla hispana. Enb los grados más pequeños se les enseña en una combinación de español e inglés. El español es el idioma principal en estas clases. A través del programa SOAR, estoy trabajando en un salón de segundo grado con estudiantes de habla hispana. Nuestras sesiones tienen lugar después de la escuela para una hora y media. Dividimos el tiempo entre lectura y matemáticas. Para la lectura, dos estudiantes se turnan leyendo el mismo libro. Luego los tutores hacen preguntas sobre lo que pasó en el libro y lo que piensan que va a pasar. Los estudiantes obtienen un libro a la semanay hay un sistema de puntos para lograr páginas y discusión sobre el libro. Los niños reciben un premio cada vez que llegan a quinientos puntos. Para la parte de matemáticas, los estudiantes tienen siempre una o dos hojas de trabajo para completar. La matemática es generalmente adición simple o sustracción. Si tenemos tiempo después de que hemos completado la tarea de matemáticas, jugamos juegos diferentes como Uno o Lo siento. El aula tiene todos los tipos de juegos de mesa cuando terminamos nuestro trabajo. No siempre nos ponemos a jugar, pero a los niños les encanta hacer esto. Esta es una gran oportunidad para practicar mi español y colaborar con los estudiantes!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Terms You Should Know when Applying for a Top Position in Higher Education

Imagine sitting at the head of a long table with 15 inscrutable faces looking back at you. That's what some interviews look like.
by Ann Abbott

This year I have done a lot of work on search committees--and by "a lot," I mean a lot. Each time I serve on a search committee I learn more and more about what it takes to be a successful job candidate.

Based on those experiences, I have shared tips about:

In this post, I'd like to share some of the terminology I have picked up while working on search committee to fill a very high-level position in my university. Yes, your experience and qualifications are the most important thing in a job hunt. Still, knowing the lingo helps position you as an expert. Here are the terms I learned.
  • C-level Position. When I thought of the top positions in an institution of higher education, my mind always went to jobs like President, Chancellor, Provost and Deans. However, colleges and universities also have C-level positions like the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and CIO (Chief Information Officer.) Those are all C-level positions.
  • "Architect" as a verb. "To architect" is one of those words that people from the humanities hate because it comes from the business world. However, I think it is a valuable word that we has been missing from the English language. For example, when I build a wiki for a committee that I chair, it tends to eventually become confusing because I didn't "architect" it well from the beginning. 
  • Six Sigma. Some people in C-level positions within higher education have previous experience in industry. When they talk about how they lead, prioritize, measure success, etc., one model they might mention is Six Sigma. While it's not necessary to be thoroughly trained in a specific model like Six Sigma, it is very important to be able to talk about coherent approaches to building excellence into your organization.
  • Direct Reports. First of all, the person interviewing for a job wants to know to whom they will report. For example, a campus CIO might report directly to the Provost. Candidates at this level need experience managing direct reports--the more the better. For example, in my current position of Director of Undergraduate Studies, I have four direct reports. Many of them have people who directly report to them. So I oversee a group of about 50 people but only have four direct reports. (Again, I have heard faculty complain about this term because it is hierarchical and de-humanizing, so be careful when you use these kinds of terms in a higher education setting.)
  • 360 Review. This is another term (buzzword?) that people use when talking about their management processes, leadership style, creating a high-performance team, etc. 
  • SLA. I had to look this one up. It means "Service-Level Agreement." If you are involved in the support services that keep a college running, this is something you should know about.
  • Actvity-based Costing. This is a kind of financial model. I won't try to pretend I understand the ins and outs of this, but the big take-away is that when you apply for C-level positions you need to have experience managing very big budgets and be able to talk about some kinds of financial models.
  • Metrics and Dashboards. These tools are aligned with concept of strategic planning--you need a strategic plan for your organization, you fix your objectives and prioritize your work around the strategic plan, you define what you will measure to ensure that you have met those objectives (what will success look like?), and the dashboards allow you to see how you are doing at any moment in time. One particular dashboard that was mentioned: Tableau
  • Internet 2. This is a research-focused, big-data kind of international professional organization. 
  • Educause. This is a professional organization for IT professionals in higher education.
  • The Art of the Possible. As soon as I heard this phrase, I knew that I would incorporate it into my own vocabulary. It conveys my own can-do, optimistic, innovative outlook. Unfortunately, this phrase comes from an Otto von Bismark quote and a military/political context. Still, I identify with the notion of finding things/projects that are possible; I don't like it when people's first reaction is to simply find the "impossible" in everything, always sticking with the status quo. 
  • After Action Report. Among other things, an after action report is part of a communication cycle when something bad/unexpected happens. Here is the cycle: 1) message acknowledging the problem, 2) a resolve message, letting people know that the issues has been resolved, 3) an after-action message letting people know why it happened and the lessons learned from the incident. C-level employees must show that they are excellent leaders, communicators and know how to handle crises.
Here are some technologies that came up:
  • Google Garage. Wouldn't it be great to set up your classroom space with a lot of tools and then just tell students to "make something"?
  • Hypercities. Mapping that goes beyond Google maps.
  • Neatline. Combines maps and timelines.
  • Scalar. A platform for scholarly publishing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Student Reflection: Kelly Klus

by Kelly Klus


East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center

My name is Kelly Klus- I’m a senior in my final semester (YIKES!) at the University of Illinois. My diploma will say that I’ve studied Psychology and Spanish in my four years here—but I spent so much time dabbling in classes, wandering and changing my major, career plans, and pursuing different interests that I think it would be more accurate if my diploma said something more like ‘Miscellaneous Studies.’ One thing that has stayed consistent is my desire to learn and speak Spanish well, to be able to interact with the wide varieties of cultures that speak Spanish.

This semester, I’ve been volunteering Tuesday mornings at ECIRMAC. The center is a small room in the church on Green Street in Urbana. The room fits four desks, a copy machine, and 3 filing cabinets—but leaves little to no room to maneuver around the room. There are schedules, calendars, and pamphlets taped to the walls in different languages. In a normal day, the doorbell rings every 5 to 10 minutes and the phone rings (what seems like) constantly. Whoever is at the refugee center working at the time will hum, mumble, call out, “What do we need to file this for so-and-so?” “Who has the file for so-and-so?” Spanish, English, and Vietnamese are spoken throughout the day, sometimes interchangeably. Frustrations with DCFS will be expressed, with the process for SNAP forms, with clients’ employers—but jokes are not few and far between and the women are laughing more often than not. Clients come and go, have short conversations or stay and spend time filling out forms with the five women who work at the center. The clients leave the center with more confidence about their taxes, about their health insurance coverage, about the translation of their birth certificates, about bills and upcoming appointments. They leave with more reassurance that they will be able to continue to support their family when they have all of the correct paperwork to continue receiving SNAP cards or have the correct paperwork to obtain and keep a job. I have been consistently surprised and in awe of the sheer amount of people that the women in the center are able to help each day.

This is the first year I’ve lived in an apartment and I’ve been responsible for my own electricity, cable, and car bills. The four girls and I that live in the apartment have a difficult time figuring out the bills, making sure everything is correct and getting them paid on time, and we are privileged to speak the language in which the bills are written and the people speak when we call to have questions. I cannot imagine how difficult, scary, and destabilizing it would be to try to deal with these things in a language in which I was not extremely confident. Receiving a bill, a letter, or a phone call in a language that was strange to me in a country that was relatively new to me would be a very disconcerting event—having a place like the Refugee center is an indispensible resource. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Student Reflection

by Kelsey Marquez

One Day 

Sadness. Sadness is what I felt when I saw their innocent faces go from excited to disappointed. I will never forget the second time I went to volunteer at Garden Hills. When I walked into the nearly empty classroom, I came across an unfamiliar face. The stranger quickly introduced herself and said that she was the substitute teacher for the day and that the kids were still at Library. Within about five minutes, we went to pick up the children from Library and took them to get their vision tested. Up until that point, everything was pretty normal and going as usual. But soon that would change.

The substitute teacher was an elderly Caucasian woman who didn’t speak a word of Spanish. For most classes, this would not be a problem, but this class is a bilingual kindergarten class. What does that mean? It means that the children are being taught in Spanish and know very little or no English at all. As we waited for the children to get tested, they were asked to quietly read to themselves or to another classmate. One student excitedly ran up to the substitute and said “¿Quieres leer conmigo?” The substitute stared at him and said “I don’t know what you’re saying” and just walked away.

As I watched the child’s excitement slowly fade away, my heart broke into pieces. I had only interacted with these kids for a few hours but I couldn’t help but feel terrible for the situation that they were in. Similar interactions occurred throughout the two hours that I was there. I felt that I needed to do something about it. After the child was basically ignored, I asked him “¿Quieres que yo lea contigo?” His response saddened me even more. “¿Tú sí hablas español?” The tone of his voice was a mixture of sadness and relief, relief that he had found someone who understood him.

Throughout the day, I tried to function as a translator between the children and the substitute. Granted, I was only there for a couple hours, but I wanted the children to still have the nice experience they usually have while in school. If it weren’t for this specific day, this specific moment, I would have never realized the true importance of bilingual educators. We always talk about the importance of having bilingual teachers but I had never actually seen why it is so important. It is truly sad that our schools offer bilingual programs but cannot always offer bilingual teachers. She was only the substitute teacher for a day, but that was one day that the children were deprived of their bilingual education. One day when they felt misunderstood. One day when they spoke, but weren’t heard. 

Student Reflection

by Nicole Mathes

The Garden Hills Community Pyramid

In class, we have been focusing on businesses and components that are essential to the success of those businesses. For the longest time, I have (mistakenly) thought that schools are NOT businesses—they do not sell or advertise goods and services, their main goal is different than striving to increase profits, and they do not have clients. However, after one particular day volunteering at Garden Hills Elementary School, I realized that schools are businesses or, at the very least, have similar systems that make up the overall pyramid of the corporation.

On this particular day, we had a substitute teacher in our class. In fact, ALL of the third grade teachers were at a conference that day, so there were substitute teachers for every single third grade classroom in the school. Substitute teachers are great, but they have a difficult job to perform. They have to hold the respect and attention of the students, maintain a positive learning environment, teach the lessons in an enjoyable and age-appropriate way, and attend to the individual needs of the students, while also following the school’s policies and standard routines. These are not easy tasks to do, especially if this is your first time subbing at a school or there is some confusion over the lesson plans.

The substitute teacher had experience subbing at Garden Hills, but not in the third grade classroom. There was also some confusion over the lesson plans—some of the students said that they had already completed the assigned writing activity, while others said that the class had not yet done this activity. And, since all of the regular third grade teachers were out of the building, there was no one to clarify questions about the lesson. The substitute teacher, my fellow tutors, and I need to rely on the students to help us and trusted that they would tell us the truth. Even though I have been tutoring at Garden Hills for several weeks, the class’s Friday schedules are not always the same. For example, during the time that I come in, they usually do a writing activity followed by a reading activity. However, sometimes they focus on reading in small groups with a tutor/teacher/parent volunteer or practice their spelling words. I do not know their reading level groups by heart and nor do I have a copy of their spelling words—the teacher would normally send groups to me, give me the book to read and/or give me the spelling words to practice. Once again, I needed the help of the students. To my pleasant surprise, they were on their best behavior and worked to help the substitute teacher and the tutors. At the end of the day, the substitute had to take Ms. Perez’s bus duty. She had never done bus duty before. A few other teachers (from kindergarten, second, and fourth grades), helped to explain her duty and find the bus.

Throughout the afternoon I saw many examples of teachers, staff members, tutors, and students helping the substitute teachers, which lead me to thinking about the “pyramid” structure of the school. In several classes that I have taken over my life, I have learned about business pyramids, networks, webs, systems, teams, etc. After this afternoon, I realized that schools have their own pyramid structure, similar to a business. For a business, different departments work together to provide goods and services to a client. In the case of a school, different systems (“departments”) work together to provide a quality education (“service”) to students (“client”). Some examples of different departments in businesses might be marketing, sales, human resource, production, etc. while in a school, the different systems could be teachers, counselors, principals, office staff, etc.

In the attached picture, you can see that the different colors of play dough represent the different systems in a school and that the Crayola markers symbolize the action of working together; the systems are interconnected. Together, all of these smaller, distinct systems work for the good of the whole community, or the “client” (represented by the ping pong ball at the top). In this case, I think that the community at Garden Hills would be the students. However, you can see that the community is interconnected with each system within the school, meaning that members of the community can also work to help the systems. On this day, not only did the other teachers and staff at the school work to help the substitute teachers , but the students (the “community,” the “clients”) worked to support and aid the substitutes, who could be considered the teachers in this case. Businesses often have changes in leaders, bumps in the road, problems with employees, or other challenges to overcome. Despite these challenges, the employees must work together to improve the production of goods and services, while also continuing to carry out the goal of the business. In this case, our third grade classroom had a change in the “leader.” It was important that everyone—students, volunteers, tutors, principals, teachers, office staff, etc.—work together to continue to carry out the mission of the school. Just like a business structure, the “pyramid” structure of Garden Hills is vital to its success and ability to provide a quality and enriching education to the students in the Champaign-Urbana community.      

Thursday, April 3, 2014

5 Items in my Office that Inspire Me and my Spanish Community Service Learning Work

by Ann Abbott

Doing community service learning work is rewarding, but it isn't always easy. To keep me going, I have a lot of things in my office that make me feel good. Here are just a few of them.
I keep a photograph of my girlfriends and me at one of our dinners at Bacaro. They provide me with perspective (because they all lead rich, interesting lives outside of academia), inspiration (because they are a playwright/novelist, Emmy-award-winning film producer, and serial entrepreneur), understanding (we all have three kids and busy husbands) and support (just because that's what friends do).
At last year's CIBER Business Languages conference at Indiana University, Darcy Lear and I first giggled about the crazy outfits the female board of trustees wore for their portraits through the years. Then we decided that they were our muses and snapped selfies with them. I printed two of them, wrote what these pictures represent to me and hung them up right across from my desk so I would feel inspired every day.

A busy professional must keep up her energy through the day. I drink plenty of water from this University of Illinois mug. The logo reminds me of our original mission: Learning and Labor. Plus, it is special because Walt Hurley gifted me this mug after participating in one of the many Scholarship of Teaching and Learning programs I participated in at the Center for Teaching Excellence, where I found my tribe. (Well, there and at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.)

One of my Etsy treasures: a steam punk bicyclist. It reminds me of my bike rides from home to campus--time that I use to think, plan, reflect, enjoy nature and let go of the things that weigh me down.

The most important piece in my office: a basket full of the notes that I have received from students and colleagues across the years. Many of them are thank-you notes for writing letters of recommendation. Some are holiday cards from former students and TAs who still stay in touch. A few are congratulatory notes on some achievement of mine. This basket is full, and it fills me up.
What inspirational items do you keep in your workspace? How do you maintain perspective even during the most intense parts of a semester?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Student Reflection

by Nicole Mathes


Garden Hills Elementary School

This year I chose to volunteer in the Champaign-Urbana community at Garden Hills Elementary School in Champaign. I have previously volunteered at Garden Hills Elementary with the SOAR tutoring program and was a tutor in the second, third, and fourth grade classrooms. Based on the experiences that I had with each grade, I decided to work in the third grade bilingual classroom. Even though I volunteered with SOAR for two years, I now realize that I did not have a full understanding or appreciation for the staff at Garden Hills. I was never able to see the teachers or faculty members “in action” since SOAR operates after school. Sure, I respected them like any other teacher, but now, after seeing what a typical day is like at Garden Hills (or rather, how there is no such thing as a normal day), I have come to have a much deeper appreciation for them. Garden Hills Elementary school is one of three sites for gifted programs, has a large focus on bilingual education and instruction, and strives for the students to obtain intercultural understanding and respect. Their mission is to engage and empower students “through a rigorous, internationally-minded, inquiry-based curriculum in order to become independent, life-long learners well-equipped to thrive and contribute within local and global communities.”

As I have witnessed, the teachers work very hard to try and carry out the school’s mission. Some of the students are more challenging than others and require a lot of individual attention; this is especially difficult when you have a class of 25 other students. I work in Ms. Perez’s third-grade bilingual classroom. The students in her classroom are all Hispanic, which means that she uses Spanish the majority of the time. The students are also at different academic levels. Some students have learning disabilities, some just need more individual attention, others are at age-appropriate academic levels, and others are a little bit above. My role in the classroom is to serve as a kind of teacher’s aide. Specifically, I work to improve the students’ reading comprehension, develop better writing skills, and understand math concepts. Ms. Perez typically sends students with me to a little alcove in the hallway to work.

 So far I am really enjoying my time at Garden Hills and am grateful to be exposed to “real” Spanish being used in the community! I am looking forward to the rest of my time at this school.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lose the Atlas Complex and Embrace Spanish Community Service Learning

Community service learning educators can share the load.
by Ann Abbott

I'm not going to lie: building, expanding and maintaining a Spanish community service learning program is not easy. 


But it's doable. I did it. Others have done it. 


Many people I meet, though, while genuinely interested in this pedagogy, stop short of actually putting the pieces together. Of getting started.


The Atlas Complex, I've now come to realize, is at least part of the reason people are afraid to take the final step and get the CSL course going.

The Atlas Complex is the belief that many educators have that they, like Atlas, have to carry the entire weight of students' learning on their shoulders. Finkel & Monk explain it very clearly with examples in "Teachers and Learning Groups: Dissolution of the Atlas Complex." Jim Lee and Bill VanPatten start the very first chapter of Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen with an explanation of the Atlas Complex. It's that important. And insidious. Unconscious.

Here are some questions I have received, how they reveal the Atlas Complex, and how we can share the responsibilities of CSL among all parties.

How can you know that students are actually showing up at the community partner organization and doing their work?

Atlas Complex. We assume that without our presence, things cannot function and that students will not do what they are supposed to do. (This begs the question, do we think that we are actually controlling students' behaviors when we are present?)

CSL Solution. Yes, we need to make sure that students actually put in the hours with the community partner organization. And your community partner is just that: your partner. Your community partner needs a sign-in and authorization system that gets reported back to you at pre-determined moments in the semester.

I don't know enough about [immigration reform] to be able to teach a class like yours. How did you learn all of that?

Atlas Complex. We assume that we have to be the knowledge experts and transfer our knowledge to the students.

CSL Solutions. 
  • Community Partners. Again, our community partners should be our true partners. So ask them what the issues are. Ask them to guest lecture. Ask them at the middle of the semester to identify some key information/skills/approaches that your students are missing. 
  • Students. But then don't assume that you have to turn around and immediately become the expert on all of the information your community partners shared. Hand those issues off to your students as research projects. Spend class time letting them research and present their findings. For the final exam ask them to produce an annotated reading list for next semester's students.
  • Resources. Don't assume you have to build all of this on your own. Read this blog for lesson plan ideas, students perspectives and other resources. Have your students use my textbook, Comunidades: Más allá del aula, as the basis of your CSL curriculum. After all, the information in it is based on what I saw my students needed. Yours probably will, too. Read the bibliography I provide on this blog (left hand column) and reach out to those experts, too.

How did you start your CSL program?

Atlas Complex. The question itself assumes that I did it all by myself. I didn't.

CSL Solutions. You are part of a larger community; just listen and you will find CSL opportunities. Drop by your local United Way and ask them what organizations work with Spanish speakers. When you read your local newspaper, what news do you see about local Latinos? Those news items often reveal the Latino community's needs. When you shop at Latino-owned stores, strike up conversation and ask them where and how your students might be able to plug in and help. You're also part of a university community. Find others on campus who do CSL. Could you graft your program onto theirs? What is your university's mission? If public engagement is one of them, ask for resources so that you can help your unit meet the university's mission.

These are just a few of the questions I regularly receive, and just a few of the ways that we can shake off our Atlas Complex regarding CSL. You can do it. And in many ways, our students, our communities and our profession need you to do it.

I have outlined an article manuscript that I want to begin writing about this topic. What do you think I should address in the article? How does the Atlas Complex hold you back? What solutions have you found to share the responsibilities for learning in your CSL courses? Please share in the comments!

Monday, March 24, 2014

How to Teach ESL in the US or Abroad

Many students want to experience the world--and get paid by teaching ESL.  
by Ann Abbott

Student often ask me how they can live and work abroad. After a pivotal study-abroad experience they want to return to that country. Or explore a new country. They love languages. They love other cultures. They don't want to step right from college into a "traditional" job.

Here's the latest request for information I received:

"I am looking into getting certification to teach English to non-English speaking students. Do you know what certification is needed to be able to teach ESL here in the states and what is required to live and teach English abroad? Is it the TEFL? I am looking into the CELTA, too. There is also a certificate call the TESOL, too. I did a web search, but there seems to be a lot of mis-information out there, too."

Because this semester I have been working closely with a lovely group of professionals from Illinois' Intensive English Institute, I knew exactly who to ask. I forwarded the question to them, and one of those colleagues (Jim) mailed back this response:

"I think it all depends on where friend wants to teach ESL.  For example in the US in an intensive English program like the IEI you would most likely have to have a MATESOL degree.  However, for smaller language schools and some community colleges a bachelor’s degree in anything might be enough.  I taught at a community college in the Chicago suburbs and my BS in science qualified me.  In order to teach ESL in a public school you would need a teaching license and an ESL endorsement.  However, many public schools will allow you to teach ESL as long as you have a teaching licenses and are working towards an ESL endorsement.

"To teach outside of the U.S. I think it varies even more.  I worked at small language schools in Ecuador and Bolivia where the only requirement being a native English speaker.  However, those jobs don’t pay very well and are typically not very organized.  Many of the teachers that I worked with in Ecuador and Bolivia had either a TEFL or CELTA certificate.  This was over 10 years ago so I don’t know how much that has all changed.  From what I have heard, jobs at universities abroad and at larger language schools usually at least require a CELTA or TEFL and in many cases at MATESL degree."

First, I want to say that it is so normal to have difficulty knowing exactly what to ask when you are exploring options that are unfamiliar to you. So asking the experts can help you refine your questions and your own follow-up research.

I want to thank Jim for his speedy, complete and helpful response. I also want to leave you with some other resources around this question.

  • My former student Hanna Solecka describes how she found a job teaching English in Spain. 


Give Your Spanish Community Service Learning Students' Reflections an Authentic, Global Audience

Follow me at @AnnAbbott, and I will follow you.
by Ann Abbott

As much as I love social media, I just can't seem to integrate Twitter fully into my life. 

When I joined Twitter several years ago, I would tweet after each class I taught, summarizing what I had done with students. It was a nice way to share my approach to community service learning (CSL) and to promote my textbook, Comunidades: Más allá del aula. But then I got out of the habit.

At this point, Twitter is a place where I go every couple of weeks to be inspired by others.

I was delighted that Carolina Egúsquiza @cegusquiza reached out to me via Twitter this past week. 

First, she shared the link to my blog and specifically called out how much she liked reading the students' posts:

Blogging can feel kind of lonely. Even though you see the stats and know that people are reading what you post, few people leave comments. You don't get the instant feedback that Facebook or Twitter provide. So this tweet from Carolina meant a lot to me.

Then Carolina reached out again, this time sharing the link to a webinar about a topic I am passionate about: preparing students for life after college. She also included two of my good friends and colleagues: Darcy Lear @Darcy_Lear and Mary Risner @LangForCareers. She has a finger on the pulse of social media and languages for specific purposes:

Because I'm not on Twitter too often, I missed the webinar. I replied though and said that I thought it was an important topic. Carolina told me her thoughts about the webinar and emphasized again how important it is to read students' stories, to see their veiwpoints:

I replied to Carolina to let her know that I would share her thoughts with my students. I am a firm believer in providing students with writing tasks that have a real audience--not just the instructor. With social media, we have more and more ways to provide that audience. Knowing that someone will read their words, that they can have an impact with their writing, photographs, videos, curated content, etc. can be very motivating and satisfying. Carolina agreed:

I'm following Carolina (@cegusquiza) now, and I'm looking forward to reading more of what she shares on Twitter. I'm also going to share this blog post with my students on my Facebook Page so that they will see that people are indeed paying attention to their posts.

  • Are you on Twitter? Follow me at @AnnAbbott. 
  • Do you want to see and read about Spanish CSL students' experiences? Go to my blog and search for "Student Reflection" and "Student Spotlight."
  • Do you give students assignments that have a real audience? Do they get feedback from people outside of the class? Please share your ideas and strategies.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spanish Community Service Learning Students Interpreting at Parent-Teacher Conferences

What would you do if you couldn't talk to you children's teacher?
by Ann Abbott


Parent-Teacher conferences are a crucial opportunity for families to communicate with the teachers and make concrete plans for their children's academic success. As a parent myself, I sometimes think of parent-teacher conferences as a way for us to influence how the teachers see and interact with our children: they know that behind each of children are two parents who are interested in their children's success, engaged in supporting their success at home, respectful of the teachers' work, and committed to advocating for our children.

Imagine if you couldn't talk to your kids' teachers because you didn't speak the same language.

What information about your child would you miss out on? What consequences might that have for your child? How might you be judged as a parent?

Each semester, several of my students help at Central High School's parent-teacher conference. It's really important that someone be there to help bridge the language gap.

Here's a note from the person at the school who organizes my students' work on those days:
Dear Dr. Abbott,
I just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you (again) for all your help in hooking us up with your students.  They came through with flying colors again for us this year!  I would hate to see what our conferences would have been like without them.  They are such a help to us.
I hope you are planning on doing something wonderful during break and I look forward to working with you in the fall for our conferences then.
I'm very proud of my students. But some of them don't participate because they are afraid that their Spanish isn't good enough. I won't lie: you do need a minimum level of Spanish proficiency to be able to handle these situations.

However, even for students whose Spanish is good enough, it's intimidating to know that you have the responsibility of conveying the information for the teachers and parents.

So one of my former students--Jenna Kandah, who is a codirector of the tutoring program Vis-a-Vis--is working on an independent project to provide more support to students who work at these parent-teacher conferences. This is how she explained the project and asked permission to gather information:
My name is Jenna Kandah, I'm a past student of Ann Abbott's at the University of Illinois. This semester I'm doing an independent research project with her to figure out the most helpful resources for U of I students who help interpret for Spanish speaking parents at Parent-Teacher Conferences.

I was wondering if there is any chance I can sit-in on as many PTCs as possible that have U of I Spanish speaking volunteers signed up to translate? During the sit-in, I would simply be typing the most frequently used words I hear from the teachers and a few other observations (educational target words, possible vocabulary used to indicate problems with students, questions that Spanish speaking parents might ask, proper etiquette to make a good environment for the interpretors/parents/students, etc). After as many conferences as I can sit-in on, I would make a refined list that would be included in a website of many resources I will collect for U of I students to reference before going to be interpretors at the PTCs next semester and so-on.
My goal is to help make future Spanish interpreter volunteers feel more comfortable and prepared for what they will be experiencing, because I did help translate last semester at Central and remember how worried I felt beforehand.
I'm available all of Thursday from 5-8 pm. If my sitting-in would be possible, could you let me know what times/room numbers have been designated for Spanish translators to attend? I would love to get a wide range of vocabulary for my list, so the bigger variety of subjects/teachers/grade levels I can attend the better. I know this is a lot to ask, but I thank you so much for your time and consideration! I would have no problem explaining in Spanish my role to every Spanish speaking partner whose PTC I sit-in on. I'm available to talk through phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx if you have any questions.
I am confident that Jenna will turn her observations into wonderful resources for future students. In the meantime, here are some more resources.
I'm aware that professional interpreters should do the job that my students are currently volunteering to do. However, when you work with a community and their needs are not being addressed by professionals, it's not a black or white issue. I'll address that issue in a future blog post.

What's the Value of Learning a Foreign Language in College?

by Ann Abbott

Some people complain about Facebook and say, "I don't care what the people I went to high school with had for lunch."


Facebook is so compelling for me because I have a wonderful group of friends who entertain and educate me with their posts. Because they are wonderful thinkers and conversationalists in real life, this also transfers over to their Facebook interactions.

Valerie Wilhite is one of my favorite Facebook friends. We were both graduate students at the University of Illinois, and she shares her passions for language, cultures, literatures and histories with the students of the University of Oregon. (I highly encourage you to read Valerie's bio; she tells wonderful stories about the powers of language, cultures and people.)

A few days ago, she posted this Freakonomics podcast "Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?"


One way to react to the feedback is to simply dismiss the notion of assigning economic value to everything.
  • Should we ask what the economic return of a visit to a museum is? 
  • Should we assign differing dollar values to the friends and family we spend time with? 
No. Learning, exercising your brain, engaging yourself in different types of learning, those are all valuable in and of themselves. Learning a second (or third, fourth, etc.) language also develops some really important personal characteristics that in the end might be just as "valuable" as the language itself.
  • Humility. You will say something stupid.
  • Empathy. You should develop a new appreciation for English-language learners.
  • Patience. You have to slow waaaaay down to express your complex thoughts in a new language.
  • Responsibility. When you don't understand something, you have to use your tools to bring the conversation back to your level of understanding: "Mas despacio, por favor." "Repita la primera palabra, por favor." "No entiendo. Ayuda!"
  • Comfort with ambiguity. You will not understand everything you read or hear, and yet you will still be able to make sense of it. That's such an important life lesson.
  • And so much more. 
Valerie asked her friends to share their thoughts. And I decided to engage with the issues in the podcast, not dismiss them. (To protect other people's privacy, I will only post my part of the conversation.) 

Thanks, Valerie, I thought that was actually a very interesting podcast. Like your other friends, I also reject the notion that we have to frame everything we learn in school around the notion of how much money will it make you. However, I do understand that our students (and their parents) have very real concerns about their work-lives after college.
  • I think they painted ROI with a very broad brush. I think knowing another language is more important in some fields/jobs than others. I also think that instead of asking whether knowing Spanish (for example) earns you more money in a job, in a very competitive job market we might ask if Spanish could be the thing that actually gets you the job over another person who is monolingual. You might not have a higher salary, but at least you have a salary!
  • From my experiences with international businesses, employers are often looking more for a kind of global literacy than a specific language proficiency. They want people who can travel with ease, create relationships with people from all kinds of different places/cultures, and who have a kind of savoir faire that comes from translingual and transcultural experiences.
  • If you don't have the hard skills that a job requires, knowing Spanish (or Hebrew, Arabic, etc.) won't do you any good. We need to stop saying "Spanish will open all kinds of doors for you!" I think that it's more accurate and fair to say that Spanish combined with some other well-developed, sought-after skills will open doors for you. If my husband is looking for a marketer, he needs someone who has studied/has experience with marketing. Spanish is a plus.
  • I think our language teaching profession is wonderful and does great work, but I also think that's it's okay to look at it with a critical eye and question what we do and how we do it. I think we make a lot of claims we can't necessarily back up, especially regarding transcultural competence.
  • Thank you, Valerie , for being one of my favorite interlocutors about all things regarding languages. We share the same passion for languages, learning and thinking. Being surrounded by languages and people from other cultures makes my life (and yours, too, I know) infinitely richer. That's one heck of a ROI in my book. 

What are your thoughts about the podcast? What do you think about Facebook as a place to exchange ideas? Be an interlocutor: Leave a comment! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Student Reflection: Kelsey Marquez

by Kelsey Marquez

When people asked me what my native language is, I didn’t always know how to respond. My parents are Mexican immigrants and do not speak English very well. They speak to me in Spanish but my two older sisters have always spoken to me in English. When I first started school, my mom enrolled me in an English-only kindergarten class. Up until college, I had never taken a Spanish class. Therefore, my English was a lot better than my Spanish, even though I could speak both fluently. But when it came down to my which one was my native language, wouldn’t it be the one that I knew best (English)?

When I came to the University and began taking Spanish classes, I was always referred to as the “native speaker”. This was interesting to me because up until then, I considered myself a native English speaker. As I took more and more Spanish/ language classes, I realized that I did not need to know everything about a language in order to call it my native language. In fact, no one knows everything that a language consists of, not even those who are native. So when asked about my native language, I now proudly say that it is Spanish. I may not have known it as well as English, but it was the first language that I was taught.

It wasn’t until I was immersed in a culture that was predominately of white descent that I realized what my native language was. I grew up in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood so everyone spoke Spanish. My friends and I knew Spanish, but we usually just spoke in English among ourselves and in Spanish when speaking to adults. But here at the University, I did not have the same opportunity to speak Spanish had I not enrolled in Spanish courses.

I decided to dorm with my Spanish speaking friend from high school in a triple room. This meant that we would have a random third roommate. Not surprisingly, our third roommate was not Hispanic. My friend and I worried that our roommate would feel uncomfortable whenever we spoke Spanish around her. But to our surprise, she was very understanding and welcoming. She tried learning Spanish right away. We had only lived together for a week and she claimed to already know how to speak Spanish. That same week, she drew a picture of all three of us on a white board saying “Yo amo a mis mexicanas”. It was pretty funny but very sweet at the same time. My friend and I were very fortunate to have her as a roommate.


I have had different experiences as a Spanish speaker depending on the situation and setting I am in. I enjoy speaking to native speakers as well as those who are learning Spanish as their second language. I look forward to interacting with the Spanish speaking community in Champaign, given the dense Latino population on campus. It’s always nice to be immersed in a culture I am very familiar with.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How To Translate a Community Partner's Document in the Classroom

by Ann Abbott

Translating gives me a headache.

It's too hard. I never feel sure of myself. And even though I know that according to the rules you're supposed to translate from your second language (Spanish or Italian, for me) into your first language (English, for me), I also know that what our community needs desperately are translations from English to Spanish.

My colleague Prof. Anna María Escobar received a request from a community organization for a translation. She asked if my students might be able to do it. Normally I would have said no, but instead I planned the lesson below.

Note: One of my students (Cassie Grimm) is involved with a student start-up called StudyCloud. I love to support student entrepreneurs, so this semester I am using StudyCloud as my course management system. As you'll see from the screen shots below, it works like Facebook in many ways and provides a much more visually-engaging learning experience than Blackboard.

#1. First I had students explore the community partner's website to learn about who they are and what they do.


#2. Secondly, I had them apply some of the main concepts from our course, which is about social entrepreneurship, to the community partner organization. They looked to see how closely aligned the organization's programs were to its mission. They analyzed the elements of branding included on the website. They looked for income-generating opportunities. (Thinking in terms of income-generating activities--actually selling a service or product--is the most challenging thing to teach in a foreign-language course on social entrepreneurship.) I also wanted you to see in this screenshot one of the neat ways to use StudyCloud. A student wrote her group's answers as replies to my instructions. You could also assign a student to take notes during class and post them as replies. Maybe I'll do that in next week's classes....

#3. One student in the class has done her community service learning (CSL) work at the dental clinic within the Promise/Frances Nelson Clinic. She told us all about her experiences working there. I then showed this short video of a student, Val Contri, who this course two years ago and worked at the same clinic. This was a way for us to connect the CSL component of our course with our classroom activities.



#4. Then we got down to the business of translation.
  • First, I made sure they understood all the words and phrases in English. They did. 
  • Then we went back to the clinic's webpage and opened up some documents they already had posted in Spanish. I told students that when they do a translation, instead of just sitting down with a pencil and a dictionary, they should try to find some authentic documents about the same topic and pull vocabulary and phrases from there. Some of them were able to find entire sentences that they could lift for our translation project. 
  • Next, two of my students who are studying in the Center for Translation Studies came to the front of the class and explained some of the basic concepts and approaches to doing translations. 




#5. Finally, I let them begin to actually translate.
  • Each student was assigned two sentences to translate individually, using the tips and concepts we had just presented.
  • Then they got together with the other students who had translated those same sentences. They compared their translations and came up with a final version.
  • They posted their final version.
  • I copied and pasted their translations, cleaned them up, and sent the document to the community partner.
  • Now the community partner will need to tweak the translation. 


We can't provide professional-level translations, but we can provide:
  1. a lesson on translation that is grounded in a real-world project that fills a community-identified need, and
  2. a true partnership experience in which our students do volunteer work for the partner who is capable of providing a supervisory (and editor) role.
Do you teach translation in your Spanish CSL course? Do you feel overwhelmed by the community's need for translation and interpreting? Tell me about your successes and challenges in the comment!