Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spanish Students Can Win Prize Money

by Ann Abbott

I, of course, love the topic of Pearson/Prentice Hall's student essay contest: "Es tu mundo ¡Conéctate!"

I wish my Spanish community service learning (CSL) students could participate, but the contest is open to students in intermediate Spanish courses. The "Spanish in the Community" course is sixth-semester or higher.

If your intermediate Spanish students use their Spanish in the community (it doesn't seem like it has to be specifically for a CSL course), encourage them to enter. You can get money too.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall 2009 Scholarship of Engagement Reading Group

by Ann Abbott

You don't have to be at the University of Illinois to benefit from the wonderful reading list that Valeri Werpetinski has put together for the Fall 2009 Scholarship of Engagement Reading Group. There is information about (1) theoretical foundations of international service learning, (2) international and intercultural perspective on service learning and (3) student oucomes.

But if you are at the Univeristy of Illinois, click here to read the selected pieces and meet us on Monday, Sept 28, 12:00-1:30 p.m. in room 428 Armory Bldg. to discuss the topic and the readings. Even if you don't have time to read any of the pieces, come anyway.

Students: Apply for Leadership Opportunities in D.C.

I received a message from Julio Costa with all the details about the applications for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's internship, fellowship and scholarship opportunities. Take a look at Julio's profile, read carefully what they're looking for, and make yourself shine in your application. These are wonderful opportunities!


CHCI Program Applications
Now Available Online

CHCI is recruiting Hispanic American students - undergraduate and graduate - for its nationally recognized leadership development programs.

Applications for CHCI's 2010 Congressional Internship, Public Policy Fellowship, Graduate & Young Professional Fellowship, and Scholarship Programs are now available online at

The Congressional Internship Program provides college students with Congressional work placements on Capitol Hill to learn first-hand about our nation's legislative process. CHCI is proud to announce that with the generous support of Walmart, it is expanding its Congressional Internship Program from a summer program to three semesters throughout the year.

The Congressional Internship Program application deadlines are:
Spring 2010 semester: November 13, 2009
Summer 2010: February 5, 2010
Fall 2010 semester: April 30, 2010

The twelve (fall and spring) and ten (summer) week summer internships include housing, roundtrip transportation to and from Washington, D.C., and a stipend of $3750 for semester participants and $2500 for summer interns.

CHCI's Public Policy Fellowship Program, conducted from August to May, provides college graduates with national, hands-on public policy experience in a congressional office, federal agency, nonprofit sector, or corporate setting. Travel, healthcare and $2,200 monthly stipend are provided. The Public Policy Fellowship Program application deadline is February 19, 2010.

CHCI's Graduate & Young Professional Fellowship Program offers unparalleled exposure to experience in the underserved public policy areas of health, housing, international affairs and law.

CHCI is also aggressively moving to provide opportunities for young Latinos who are interested in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Recently, CHCI announced its partnership with the Latino STEM Consortium to ensure that Latino youth will have opportunities to pursue internships, fellowships, and even a career working in the STEM industry in Washington, DC.

The fellowship is open to applicants with a graduate degree from an accredited educational institution or equivalent three years professional experience in a chosen policy field. This competitive program is comprised of a nine-month fellowship including a substantive work placement at a legislative subcommittee office, federal agency, national non-profit advocacy organization, or corporate office. The International Affairs Fellowship includes three months abroad in Mexico from February to April. Travel, health insurance and $2,700 monthly stipend are provided. The Graduate & Young Professional Fellowship Program application deadline is February 19, 2010.

With more than $1 million in need-based scholarships awarded to Hispanic students since 2001, CHCI's Scholarship Program is available to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a two-four year accredited college or university. Students pursing an associate's degree may apply for a grant in the amount of $1,000; $2,500 for bachelors candidates; $5,000 for graduate students. The Scholarship Program application deadline is April 16, 2010.

To be eligible, all program applicants must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, be a graduate or undergraduate student with remarkable leadership potential, and have demonstrated a vast history and commitment to community and public service.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

UIUC Civic Commitment Task Force's Recommendations

by Ann Abbott

Click here to read the recommendations that our Civic Commitment Task Force recently released. The task force obviously gave great thought to how they could build upon existing university frameworks and strengths to promote more engagment opportunities and to deepen existing ones. The links to other programs are especially useful: they are examples of what our university could achieve as well as reveal the gaps between those possibilities and current realities.

I felt that the section on research could have been strengthened. As it is, it seemed too broad to me. I think almost every researcher on campus would argue that their work is important to society. (And really, since nothing exists outside of society, they would be right.) Perhaps some other communication from the task force (or a future body that takes up the work of the task force) could clarify what civic commitment in research looks like on our campus.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Facebook in Spanish

by Ann Abbott

I use Exito comercial in my Business Spanish class, and so far we've talked about global business, business structures and management. Next week we'll cover banking and accounting. By using the accompanying workbook, students are working on how they express themselves in written Spanish in a professional context. It isn't easy!

These are all essential topics and tasks in business, but I want my students to finish this course being able to do something specific, having a hard skill under their belts and on their resume. So this is the learning goal I have established for this semester:

Students will finish the course with the necessary skills to create a social media marketing plan and implement it.

So after the next chapter in our textbook, I will be giving my students lessons on social media and business. I'll post more about that in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I think you might find the video above entertaining. Did you know all those Facebook terms in Spanish? Why not add a little Spanish to your every-day (every-hour?) Facebook experience by switching it to Spanish? Go to "Settings," "Account Settings" and "Language."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Is Spanish Important to Your Future?

by Ann Abbott

I just read Peter Bregman's latest post on the Harvard Business Publishing site. In it, he gives excellent examples of cross-cultural work scenarios, and the potential pitfalls that occur when you don't fully understand the cultural expectations of all parties.

But we aren't born knowing what the expectations of all cultures are. Many times we don't even recognize our own until we run up against someone who doesn't share them.

The traditional approach to teaching cultural expectations has been to come up with lists. Asians do this. Latinos want that. Americans are like this. Gift-giving cultures expect that. High-distance cultures need this. It's a weird combination of specificity--lots of detailed items on these lists--and huge generalizations--painting entire continents with one big brushstroke.

When teaching my Business Spanish class yesterday, I had to cover the section of the textbook that talks about how important family is in Hispanic cultures. While this is indeed true, in general, I asked the students, "Does that mean that family is not important in North American culture?" Of course it is important! It just manifests in different ways. It's deceiving--and insulting--to make this broad statements about cultures.

A better approach to teaching how to work with people from different cultures (and as Bregman points out, we all work with people from different cultures, even if they're from the same country--or even city--as us), is to ask them to be astute and careful observers. And to ask questions. Investigate. Teach themselves about the people they work with. They might start off with one of those "lists." But they have to move beyond them.

So how can we connect this to Spanish community service learning (CSL)? Something as simple as a reflection prompt can urge students to think about how their experiences in the community might translate to their future jobs. For example:

  1. Think back to a time when you worked on a group project and your way of working was different than another person's on the team. Describe how that created a problem for you.
  2. Think back to the same time, or a different one. Describe how a teammate's different way of working actually benefited you and/or the project.
  3. Think about someone you have worked with in your CSL work who has done something differently than you would do it. It could be a Latina/o community member, a student, a client or your supervisor. Tell how you could successfully complete a project with that person by taking advantage of both your work styles.
If you use this with your students, leave a comment to let me know how it goes!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Student Spotlight: Julio Costa

by Ann Abbott

Some students really inject life into a class. Julio Costa did just that in the "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" class I taught last semester. So it wasn't surprising to me when I found out that he had been accepted into a very prestigious program designed to develop leadership in outstanding young Latinos. Here is some information about Julio and news about his experiences in Washington D.C.
  • Julio studied political science and Spanish.
  • He took both Spanish community service learning (CSL) courses: "Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish & Entrpereneurship."
  • In both classes Julio did his CSL work in the bilingual classrooms at BT Washington elementary school.
  • In his reflective writing, it was obvious that Julio had formed very positive relationships with the children in the class where he worked and that the students saw him as a role model.
  • For his community-based project in the "Spanish & Entrpreneurship" course, Julio and his teammates used a variety of methods to raise money to buy books for the library at BT Washington. The librarian wrote me a very nice note, thanking the students for their work and donation.
  • Julio is now doing a Congressional Internship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. If anyone is interested in learning more about this internship, Julio has very generously offered his help: "Please - if there are any students that ever want any info regarding politics, Washington D.C, Spanish, just any question in general, please feel free to give them my email address. I would be more than delighted to help, as many people have helped me get where I am today."
  • Read Julio's bio--he mentions his Spanish CSL work! And look at the many ways in which he took advantage of opportunities at the University of Illinois to prepare himself for the position in which he is now.

Here are Julio's own words:

"Hello Prof. Abbott:

"I am working for Congress right now. I was awarded a placement in the Office of Sen. Robert Menendez. I really like it. I get to work on a wide variety of policy, especially those that affect Latinos the most. [I can forward] you information offered by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus such as: directories of scholarships, summer internships in Washington D.C, fellowships, etc. I figured since you use your blog as a medium to connect with students, it could be very helpful for some of them to know about opportunities that are offered.

"I am a legislative correspondent here at my senate office and I'm in charge of issues relevant to the Senate Hispanic Task force, immigration, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Needless to say I am constantly meeting with lots of people (a lot of social organizations just like the ones we talked about in class) and speaking lots of Spanish with people from all over the world."

Julio even offered an idea for a very interesting reflection prompt in the "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course. I will boil down his idea and turn it into a prompt. Here is his idea:

"[B]eing here has really opened my eyes to how funding, donations, contributions, etc .on behalf of multi-million dollar corporations, social advocacy groups, and even non profits play their role in helping to fund programs such as mine, that allow individuals to work in a field of particular interest to them. For ex: I am an employee of the United States Senate. However, I am paid by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which receive donations from corporations and organizations in an effort to help develop "the next generation of leaders". So essentially, my job is funded by some sort of organization. I think [a reflection prompt related to this] would be interesting, especially to college students, because it would allow them to see that there are so many opportunities out there and people with money that are willing to give for a good cause. It would be nice for them to have an insight into what is out there for them, especially for those that are so close to graduating!

"[In other words, the prompt would be about:] How companies and organizations play their part in developing young leaders through sponsorships and donations. I know your class focuses more around social entrepreneurship but I just thought it would be interesting for students to know how companies play their part in trying to help help them and of the multitude of opportunities that are available to them - they just have to look for them."

Good luck, Julio, with all you are doing and will do in the future! I know you were an inspiration to the children at Booker T. Washington Elementary School, and I believe other UIUC students will be inspired and informed by your path.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is Spanish Important for Our Students' Future?

by Ann Abbott

"Like many teenagers, my son spends a ton of time on his computer," writes Robert Safian in his letter from the editor in "Fast Company's" September 2009 issue. "His passion is designing icons to personalize a desktop or iPhone interface. He posts sets of these icons online for people to download. He doesn't get paid for any of this. But he loves doing it."

That sounds wonderful. We want our children and students to have passions, skills and technological know-how. But Safian's next paragraph set my teeth on edge.

"I sometimes reprimand him for devoting so many hours to this: 'Have you finished your Spanish homework?' Yet I also find myself wondering, What's actually the better training for his future, high-school Spanish or honing these self-taught computer skills?'"

How many times must we explain the importance of foreign languages to Americans? Why did he pick his son's Spanish class and not his math class? Or English class? Why make it an either-or proposition? But most importantly, why, in a magazine that so often features international businesses and business people, would they present Spanish and foreign languages in this way? How can he, of all people, not understand how important Spanish is for everyone's future, especially in the US?

Yet at the same time, I do understand.

If his son is learning bits and pieces of language that don't get put together in ways that are meaningful for interactions that take place outside of the classroom, that's not useful. If culture is presented in facile ways with no critical analysis of one's own culture, then that won't make his son a valued member on today's multicultural teams. And if we tell students that Spanish will be useful once they graduate and look for a job yet we never teach them anything about how to use language and cultural knowledge on the job, that's not useful either.
This is one more reason that I think that there is a place for community service learning (CSL) in every Spanish program. I don't believe the editor of "Fast Company" would have written that if his son would have been working in the community, side-by-side with native Spanish speakers. Or if his son would have been working on a social media marketing plan--in Spanish!--for his icons. Or developing some of those icons for his community partner's website for a free download to promote their brand and awareness of their cause.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bilingual ESL and Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

One more follow-up about the work of Lisa Rabin and her colleagues at George Mason University. Click here to see a video about the teaching practicum in bilingual ESL that Prof. Rabin organized, and click here to read more about it. Prof. Rabin says that, "The field study has resulted in a very practical way of training students in language ideologies and working with institutions in the community as well as with residents."

I like to include "student spotlights" on this blog to inform and inspire other students. Consider this a "faculty spotlight" that will do the same.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Student's Perspective on Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

It's really nice when students are genuinely excited about doing Spanish community service learning (CSL) because it connects to their values, experiences and goals. Here is an e-mail I received this summer from a student. It also shows the appeal that Spanish CSL can have for heritage speakers. And finally, it's so nice to have males take an interest in the class; most of our Spanish students are females.

To Whom This May Concern:

I'm writing regarding the class SPAN 232, Spanish in the Community. I was browsing through classes I was interested in adding to my schedule and this one struck me as really intriguing. I've taken a Spanish placement exam at UIUC, but don't really recall what I received, as my foreign language requirement was met in high school. So, while I don't have any formal Spanish language education at the collegiate level, as I'm sure you can tell my surname (and first name for that matter), I am of Hispanic decent, thus Spanish is in fact not a "foreign" language to me.

While English is the primarily language spoken in my household, I do believe I have strong (enough) Spanish skills to allow me to succeed in this class. I've traveled many times to Spanish-speaking countries for personal and professional reasons where I had to employ my language skills in addition to communicating with relatives with limited English skills. More than developing my Spanish skills, the prospect of being able to help Hispanic residents of Champaign-Urbana, which this class if offering is really the selling point for me. Far too often does the University and University students place themselves in a bubble and isolate themselves from the outside community. My involvement with [XYZ] (a co-ed Latino fraternity) and employment at the Latino/a Studies Program helps keep me informed to some of our community issues and it would be great to actually engage in them.

I do understand that the course was reserved for Spanish majors, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask if there are still some openings. ... If there is any information about how I can go about possibly being in this class, please don't hesitate to contact me, it'll really mean a lot.

Thank you in advance,

Monday, September 14, 2009

Describe Your Community Service Learning Program in Five Sentences

by Ann Abbott

I recently was challenged to describe one of my Spanish community service learning (CSL) courses in five sentences. I wondered how I could do that when I seem to write an infinite number of blog posts about them! So, I tried to to not complicate things too much and came up with the five sentences below. They're long sentences, but they are five. Can you describe yours in a few sentences? A few words? With one picture? In a 30-second video?

In SPAN 332, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship," students spend their time in the classroom learning about the theories of social entrepreneurship and how to build sustainable non-profits in culturally-appropriate ways. They also spend 28 hours (that's about 800 volunteer hours, total) working with a local non-profit that serves Champaign-Urbana's sizeable Latina/o population. They use their Spanish skills to help non-profits (schools, social service agencies, clinics and youth organizations) achieve their missions and enhance their services to their Spanish-speaking constituents; some organizations have been able to serve Spanish-speakers for the very first time because of our students. Local Latinas/os receive services in their own language, and our students benefit by improving their Spanish, learning first-hand about Latino cultures and observing what happens when the theories of social entrepreneurship come up against reality. Eight to ten students go on to hold a summer internship anywhere in Illinois in business related sites (Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, College of DuPage's SBDC, ACCION Chicago) or grass-roots non-profits (Gads Hill Center, La Voz Latina of Rockford, the Refugee Center in Urbana, and more).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Students Can Apply Spanish CSL Technology in Jobs

by Ann Abbott

Using Web 2.0 tools for my Spanish community service learning (CSL) courses saved my health.

Seriously. When I first started with Spanish CSL, I scheduled the students. It wasn't too hard. I just had twelve students and one community partner. Still, the students' schedules are not set in stone at the beginning of the semester, so every time they changed something, I had to do more work.

The next year I had 24 students and two community partners. And I was still scheduling the students. I hired an undergraduate to help me (Royce, you were/are a saint!), but that just meant that two of us were stressed out. I wasn't sleeping at night. And I got backaches. Talk about stress!

Then I tried a website. Students had to e-mail me with their #1 and #2 choices. Students could see what slots were available, but I was still a slave to the e-mail and the computer. If I didn't update frequently, some students couldn't get either one of their choices because, unbeknownst to them, someone else had e-mailed earlier and gott their spot.

Now I have around 100 students per semester and a dozen community partners. A new system was obviously necessary.

I started out with Google Docs. This was a good system, but you can only invite 200 people to be part of a document. With all the students, community partners and TAs, I quickly went over the limit. And I invited them, and then un-invited them when they dropped the class. Still too much work. Most students had never heard of Google Docs. A lot of them would write to me telling me that they couldn't use it, for some mysterious reason. I had to intervene a lot.

Now I use a wiki so that students can truly self-schedule. Community partners can see, at a glance, and updated version of the schedule. There are downsides. Again, most students have never heard of a wiki. Sometimes students write me and swear that there must be some problem because they can see the information, but it won't let them type their own information on the page. I still have to send e-mails saying, "It sounds like you are on the 'View' tab. Please hit the 'Edit' tab." Some students accidently erase whole swaths of the wiki! Most don't even realize they've done it. If they do realize it, most don't know how to hit "Page history" and fix the problem.

So, yes, there is a learning curve for the students, and I'm sure there are many students who think, "I signed up for a Spanish class, not a computer class."

But for a long time now I have been telling students that these "computer" skills are important, transferrable skills that they will take with them to their jobs. (Even though I ended up shelving the YouTube assignments for video reflections; a handful of students always had problems, and they got angry!)

That is why I was thrilled to get a message from Carolina Kloecker to tell me that she had put her knowledge of wikis to use at her summer internship at ACCION Chicago:

"También queria decir gracias por la experiencia con el 'wiki' en tu clase, acabo de crear uno para ACCION Chicago, donde tenemos nuestros policies, procedures, y unos 'How to's'. La experiencia usando un wiki en Spanish in the Community me he ayudado mucho! (Nosotros tenemos wikispaces en vez de pbwiki, y no se si quieres cambiar, pero a mi me gusta wikispaces mucho.)"

Her bosses at ACCION Chicago asked the interns who wanted to work on the wiki project, and Carolina jumped at the opportunity, in part, just because she's such a go-getter (I love that about Carolina), and in part because she already knew what a wiki was only because she had to use it to self-schedule for her Spanish CSL work. Imagine what kind of impression her bosses had of her know-how and her can-do attitude.
What technologies are you teaching your students that will make them valuable employees after graduation? What other transferrable skills do your students pick up while doing their Spanish CSL work?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gender, Culture and Business Spanish

by Ann Abbott

During the first weeks of my Business Spanish class this semester, we talked about globalization, culture and the connections between the two. Here are the steps I took:

1. Recall and analyze students' own experiences. Students in the class who haven't studied or travelled abroad had to interview students who had and ask them for examples of culture shocks they had experienced. After going through that exercise, students had to choose one example of a culture shock and analyze its possible importance in business contexts.

2. Define terms. I asked students to read this page at so that we would share a common definition of globalization and related concepts.

3. Explore a case. I spent about ten minutes telling students the story of my brother-in-law's, Giuseppe's, business. How he started out in Italy, near Milan, running a small sewing factory to supply the pret a porter sector. Once a flourishing industry throughout the valley where he lived, the high cost of labor (among other factors, of course) led Giuseppe and almost all the other small-business owners of this type to close shop. Specifically, I mentioned that in an industry that hired almost all women, the generous maternity leave packages were in some ways difficult for a small business owner to manage.

Eventually, with two partners, Giuseppe opened a larger sewing factory in Hungary. His two partners lived in Italy and pursued contracts with a different part of the fashion industry--large brand names with mass apeall and lower prices, like Benetton. They imported machines for the factory and fabric for the outfits; the workers cut, sewed, ironed, packaged and shipped the clothes; sometimes, in Italy, the clothes would undergo one more step--sewing on a small item, perhaps--and then carry a label stating "Made in Italy." Giuseppe married a Hungarian, Noemi, and they now have a daughter.

In the meantime, Hungary's entrance into the European Union brought changes to their business, and it, again, became increasingly expensive to run with declining profit margins--if any at all sometimes. He and his partners then opened a larger factory in the Ukraine where they make, among other things, leather outfits for motorcross riders. Although the Ukrainian economy has obviously modernized in the meantime, at the beginning, the factory workers asked to be paid in food items instead of currency that tended to lose its value. Still today, my brother-in-law leaves his family in Hungary and goes to the Ukraine almost every week to oversee operations. When he enters the Ukraine, he rides with security--it is true that bandits own parts of highways--and he eats and sleeps in the factory for security reasons. On more than one occassion political corruption has reared its ugly--and expensive--head, forcing its way into the day-to-day business operations.

4. Analyze the case. I put the class into three groups. Group 1 had to make a list of at least five specific examples of globalization in this story. Group 2 had to make a similar list, but of cultural practices or products in the story. Group 3 had to make a list of specific things that university students can do to prepare themselves for this type of global work scenario.

5. Focus on gender issues.
I will follow up with these activities by asking students to focus on issues of gender in the sewing/fashion industry and in globalization in general. Here are some key resources and questions:
  • A New York Times piece on working mothers' rights in Italy.
  • This brief piece by my friend and colleague, Prof. Gale Summerfield, about women's rights in developing nations.
  • This factoid from the Aug/Sept issue of Working Mother: "DID YOU KNOW? Women in Iraq receive a full year of government-mandated paid maternity leave. Women in the U.S. receive no mandated paid leave; it's up to their employers." (p. 16)
  • Question: How do different cultures' attitudes about gender and motherhood affect globalization efforts? And how does globalization affect cultural attitudes about gender and motherhood?
  • Question: In public discourse in the US, you will often hear (directly or indirectly) that that Western/Christian cultures are "advanced" and Middle Eastern/Muslim cultures are "backwards." How would you reply to that, given the information that you have just seen? Can you understand the point of view of other countries/cultures that want to protect themselves from the imposition of US cultural practices as globalization takes hold?

Do you have any resources or questions that you would add to the list? Leave them here in a comment!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Language Ideologies and Spanish Community Service Learning, Part 2

by Ann Abbott

In a previous post I reviewed Lisa M. Rabin's article about language ideologies and service learning from the Spring 2009 issue of the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. I concluded by saying that the information in that article will certainly inform my teaching of Spanish CSL. Try these steps with your students, and let me know how it goes.

1. Include bilingual schools as community partners. If that's not possible, English as a Second Language classes are another option. Many of my students work in bilingual classrooms at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign and in Urbana's Leal School. As they experience bilingual education for themselves and share their experiences and learning with other students in the class who work in other settings, their awareness of what bilingual education is, grows. Many students simply are not informed about bilingual education in the first place.

2. Bring experts into the classroom--in person or by video. Despite students' experiences and their sharing in the classroom, I remember vividly one semester when, near the end of the course, another student who did not work at one of these schools asked in class, "What is bilingual education anyway?" So I hired one of my TAs, Munia Cabal, to interview one of the bilingual teachers, capture it on video and share it with our students. Students have viewed that video for several years, and it now is included in the Companion Website to Comunidades. (The Companion website is not yet available. I will add a link later.) Do you know exactly what bilingual education is and why it works? Watch the video yourself. I certainly learned a lot.

3. Build activities and whole lesson plans around the concepts. My students still needed more information, and they needed to be able to put bilingual education into context with other types of language education. Leccion 8 (pp. 43-48) in Comunidades asks, "?Sabemos diferenciar entre ingles como segunda lengua y la educacion bilingue?" (By the way, it's important to tell students right away that the word in Spanish is bilingue because they often try to simply pronounce "bilingual" in Spanish.) I hired Munia Cabal to write some of these activities, and I added to them.

  • Spanish as a Foreign Language. As usual, I begin by asking students to think about their own experiences with the topic. In this case, the first activities ask them to think about how they have learned Spanish as a foreign language and then to connect that to their expectations for immigrants learning English as a second language. They can all identify successes as well as frustrations and limitations in their own language learning so that when they hear people say "they should learn English," our students can more accurately understand what that actually entails.
  • Define ESL and bilingual education. The next section offers definitions of various types of ESL and bilingual education programs and asks them to compare them to what they have observed during their work in the community. Which type of program(s) have are offered or do they participate in? (Click here to see information about bilingual education. I don't claim to be an expert in this area, so I would suggest using this source as a jumping-off point if you want to explore the field further.)
  • What is the importance of bilingual education? The last section asks students to identify reasons why it is important to maintain the mother tongue at the same time that students learn English. However, it also points out at least one disadvantage: without strong programs that help all students socialize and learn with each other, ESL or bilingual ed students and "other" students may not interact much. (Obviously, a dual immersion program would resolve this issue as English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students learn with and from each other.)

4. Reflect upon the issue. Students who have used all these materials have written very thoughtful reflective essays like this one from a student in my "Spanish in the Community" course: "Poco a poco, a través de mi trabajo en el colegio Booker T. Washington, estoy empezando a entender como la comunidad es un buen representante de conceptos e ideas que existen en nuestra sociedad. Un concepto que he empezado a entender mas es la importancia de clases bilingües en los colegios. Antes, mis creencias sobre las clases bilingües eran un poco negativas. Yo siempre pensaba que las familias inmigrantes, como personas que quieren asimilarse a la comunidad americana, deberían hacer todo lo necesario para que sus hijos aprendan el idioma y avancen en su educación aquí en este país. La verdad es que yo pensé que las clases bilingües eran malas porque atrasan el proceso de inclusión a la vida aquí en los Estados Unidos. El idioma es algo muy importante en nuestra sociedad y pensaba que si los niños estaban tomando clases en español por la mayor parte de su día, entonces los que serian mas afectados por el sistema serian los niños. Ahora, como trabajo en un colegio publico con muchos niños de familias inmigrantes, estoy empezando a entender la importancia de las clases bilingües y como ayudan a los niños. En la clase que trabajo, he notado que la mayoría de los niños hablan español no solo entre ellos mismos pero en sus casas también. Varios de los niños no tienen la oportunidad de practicar el Ingles con sus padres o hermanos y hermanas. También es importante tomar en cuenta que si los niños hispanohablantes van directamente a clases en Ingles, no solo estarían muy confundidos pero se olvidaran el español después de un tiempo. Ahora entiendo que aunque es necesario aprender el Ingles lo mas pronto posible, también es importante que los niños reciban una buena transición entre el Ingles y Español, sin que se olviden su idioma nativa. Con clases bilingües, he visto que los niños pueden seguir aprendiendo el español mientras también aprendiendo el Ingles. La profesora con que trabajo me ha explicado que aunque la mayoría de los niños entran al colegio solo sabiendo el español, no muchos saben como leer o escribir en español. A través de las clases bilingües, me dijo, "los niños pueden aprender a leer y escribir a un nivel muy básico en español, mientras haciendo lo mismo en Ingles también." De esa manera, los niños no se van a olvidar su idioma nativa, sino van a aprender mas. Mi experiencia en el colegio me ha abierto mis ojos para que pueda ver los beneficios que ofrecen las clases bilingües. Solo espero que con el tiempo que me queda en Booker T. Washington, pueda llegar a entender otras cosas buenas que ofrecen las clases bilingües."

5. Provide students with deeper tools to analyze attitudes toward language learning. From now on, I will ask students to read Lisa M. Rabin's article (excerpts, probably) and introduce terms and concepts such as language ideologies, ethnic studies and myths of language acquisition and social mobility to enrich the students' knowledge of the topic.

If you have any other teaching suggestions, activities or reflection prompts that you think would help our students better understand the information (and misinformation!) about bilingual education, please share them here!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Student Profile: Josie Chambers

by Ann Abbott
Josie Chambers contacted me by e-mail long before the semester started to ask about "Spanish in the Community" and her desire to use Spanish with local latinos. She has decided to volunteer with one of our community partners, but not for course credit. That is important for our students to know: if you really want to improve your Spanish, you don't have to take a class! Volunteer. But take it seriously, like you would a class.

In our e-mail exchanges, Josie mentioned that she was in Uganda, and I was very curious to find out more about her reasons for being there and her activities. Many of our students are curious and adventurous. I hope that some of them will be inspired by Josie's story below.

Finally, I'd like to point out that Josie's major is Integrative Biology, yet she is interested in Spanish community service learning (CSL). For both personal and professional reasons, many of our students find that putting Spanish to work in the community complements their goals.

Here is what Josie has to say:

Dear Dr. Abbott,

Thank you so much for helping me set up this volunteer work [at Booker T. Washington Elementary School]. I emailed Ms. Noyes and am currently waiting to hear a response. I will let you know how it ends up working out!

Also, here are some details about my summer work in Uganda. I was working closely with University of Illinois PhD candidate, Krista Milich, and her 14 Ugandan field assistants, collecting feeding tree information, behavioral data, and urine samples to assess how forest degradation impacts female red colobus feeding ecology and reproductive success. There were constant daily challenges in the forest, such as avoiding falling into deep swamp holes and pulling small biting ants out from underneath clothing; however, spending entire days under the forest canopy with the incredible diversity of Kibale was well worth it, and getting stuck in the swamp multiple times proved to be quite humorous.

The forest primate diversity at Kibale is particularly remarkable, and I usually saw many primate species besides red colobus every day, including chimpanzees, black and white colobus, red tails, blue monkeys, mangabeys, baboons, and L’ Hoests. I even managed to see one nocturnal primate – a dying bushbaby that I spotted sitting on a trail in broad daylight. I also had the opportunity to see elephants, as well as hippos, lions, warthogs, crocodiles, buffalo, and several bird species when I visited the savanna of Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda for a weekend. Everyone in Kibale is given a ‘pet’ name, which is chosen from a list of 12 names that people are typically called instead of their official name. The name Amooti was bestowed upon me, which means ‘king’ in the local language, Rutooro. There is some interesting local music in Uganda, but the majority of songs on the radio come from abroad. In particular, Dolly Parton enjoys widespread popularity; however, more understandable figures can be found on any number of decorated items, such as Obama’s face, which can be seen on anything from belt buckles to shoes!

Football is by far the most popular leisure activity, and I enjoyed attending some local matches to cheer on field assistants. The people at Kibale are wonderful, and I spent quite a bit of time with the many Ugandan field assistants I worked with, whose hard work and vast knowledge of plant species and complicated trail system were incredibly impressive. My time in Uganda really flew by, as there always seemed to be something going on, whether it was a potluck among researchers, weekly trip to town for food and supplies, local football match, or even a Ugandan wedding! It was sad to leave so many friends and such a beautiful place, but I hope to return to carry out more research in a few years!

I attached 3 pictures as well - one of Krista, me (blue shirt), and most of the field assistants; one of the red colobus monkeys I worked with; and one of Uganda terrain. Thanks again for all of the help!

All the best,

Monday, September 7, 2009

Article Review: Language Ideologies and Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

Rabin, Lisa M. "Language Ideologies and the Settlement House Movement: A New History for Service-Learning." Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 15.2 (2009): 48-55.

Run, don't walk, to your library to read this article from the Spring 2009 issue of the MJCSL. If you are building your own community service learning (CSL) library, like I am, subscribe to the journal. You will always find valuable information in it.

This article is good because it provides solid, and in some ways surprising, information. And it's good because it solves a problem that I and other Spanish CSL instructors have: our own students' resistance to participating in bilingual education, something that they see as keeping Latina/o immigrants "down."

In class, students might say something like, "I think that the school should offer free ESL classes for the students' parents, too. They could get better jobs if they spoke English." (As if the school had those resources at their disposal and the parents had the free time.) Or in their reflective writing they might write, "I love the kids that I work with, but even though they are really smart they won't do well on standardized exams and college entrance exams if they don't have classes in English." And you will hear this statement from lots of people when they find out that you work with immigrant populations and bilingual education: "My grandparents came here from Russia and learned English. Why can't they?"

Yet Lisa M. Rabin (from George Mason University), in her article, explains that those thoughts are not just "natural;" they are part of a language ideology that was promoted during the 1890s-1920s in the "progressive" discourse (especially at Jane Addams' Hull House) on immigrants and passed on through today by our educational system that emphasizes ethnic studies at the expense of bilingual education.

I will simply pull out some of the quotes that I found most provocative.

"...Addams and her Hull House colleagues' conception of [immigrant] gifts was delimited by their belief on the English language as an incontrovertible marker of American identity (Lissak, 1989; Pavlenco, 2002). Significantly for historians of service-learning, the Hull House group took a special opposition to immigrant languages, which were multiple in the Ninth Ward where the settlement was located and which were strongly defended by immigrant leaders in Chicago as a source of cultural and religious heritage. Immigrant languages were thought by the Hull House group to impede children's acquisition of Anglo-American ideas and of English." (p. 49)

"Ethnic studies in Chicago, therefore, was created to foster only a certain kind of cultural pluralism in public schools: one in which immigrant children would come to appreciate their Old World heritages in English, leaving their languages at home." (p. 50; emphasis in the original)

"Without English, [Sophia P.] Breckindridge and [Edith] Abbott insist, immigrant children cannot be expected to fit into American society. Delinquency among immigrant children, they seem to insinuate, can be triggered by a failure to learn English. ... A similar legacy of Breckinridge and Abbott can be seen in public discourse that places blame for poverty and social problems on families speaking languages other than English in the home." (p. 51)

"[O.] Garcia, who compared the economic status of Latinos across the country who were monolingual in English, monolingual in Spanish, and bilingual speakers, concluded that neither English acquisition nor Spanish language preservation among Latinos made a significant effect on their economic status, although both language experiences are consistently argued as having this effect in the public domain. Like May and Pavlenko, Garcia urges us to look at structural factors, such as race and class segregation and discrimination, that are obscured in the linguistic rationale for socio-economic problems in the Latino community." (p. 52; emphasis in the original)

"A second ideological remnant of the settlement house movement is the common belief that multilingualism in the United States, and debates over bilingual schooling, are relatively recent phenomena. ... Yet as we saw in the struggle in Chicago's Ninth Ward between the bilingual parochial schools and the Hull House group, there was a strong public resistance of many immigrants to Hull House language and other assimilationist practices. This resistance belies the commonly-held belief--another ideology--that immigrants to the United States from past eras voluntarily gave up their languages."

"Paraphrasing Garcia (1995), we might ask in our service-learning work with immigrants: Are language minority speakers in our communities given agency to name themselves through their languages, or are they only labeled and categorized by others? Are they given an opportunity in their schools and public environments to use their languages as resources? (pp. 155-156)." (pp. 52-53)

This article will definitely inform my Spanish CSL teaching. I'll follow up with another post with specifics.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How to Move Students from Service to Advocacy

by Ann Abbott

My Spanish community service-learning (CSL) students have been engaged in important direct service for five years now. They do the following, and more:
  • Tutor high school ESL students.
  • Serve as teachers' aids in elementary bilingual classrooms.
  • Help lead Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts meetings.
  • Answer phones, do translations, receive clients, fill out forms and problem-solve at social service agencies with Spanish-speaking clients.
  • Translate materials from English to Spanish.
  • This semester they have begun to work on research projects involving community engagement for University of Illinois professors.

But the Summer 2009 issue of the Generator newsletter made me think about how I can move students from direct service (addressing current needs) to advocacy service (addressing root causes). The newsletter gives several examples, including this one: starting a school-based recycling program (direct service) and continuing recycling effort, documenting results, and presenting to city council, spawning city-wide green initiative (advocacy service).

Although I used slightly different terms, in Comunidades I wrote a related activity (p. 120). I presented six "problems" related to housing (e.g., Los niños que no tienen vivienda digna sufren mayores incidencias de infecciones, problemas de salud mental y de comportamiento) and a possible "solultion" to each problem (e.g., Cuando haces una mejora en tu casa, donas los aparatos usados a una organización que los revende a precios bajos a las personas que quieren mejorar sus casas). Students then have to decide if the solution is an example of charity/caridad, service/voluntariado or advocacy/activismo). In this example, the solution is an example of charity/caridad.

However, a very good follow-up activity would be to ask students to do the following:

  1. Decide if their CSL work is charity, service or advocacy.
  2. List ways that they could turn their direct service or charitable activities into advocacy service.

Here's an example:

  1. Current service. My students who work as teachers' aides in a bilingual education classroom do direct service work.
  2. Real world problem for the community. Bilingual education is misunderstood and often maligned by the general public and even by school administrators. In fact, one of the schools where my students work will lose its bilingual education program as it transforms into a magnet school next year with an emphasis on the arts. Likewise, during times of financial hardship (now!), schools cut foreign language education, especially at the primary and middle school levels.
  3. Advocacy service. My students could: gather published research on how much employers value employees with foreign language skills; canvas local businesses to ask how much they value employees with Spanish (or other FL) skills on a scale of 1-5; look at other school units to find out what bilingual and foreign language education they provide; prepare a slide presentation and handout with these statistics alongside the school board's proposed cuts; present at a school board meeting and/or hold a press conference. Furthermore, my students could: ask members of the local latino community who they perceive to be their community leaders; compile that list; contact those leaders and ask if they might consider running for the school board; research the steps to running for school board; assist any community leader who does decide to run with related tasks.

What could your students do as advocacy service to address the root issue of a pressing problem in your community?

Other posts related to the Generator, Summer 2009: Visible versus invisible service; Duration and intensity of service learning

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Concrete Images of Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

"The Generator" newsletter always provides food for thought--and material for several blog posts. In a previous post I commented on the main theme of the Summer 2009 issue--the duration and intensity of service learning. (If you haven't subscribed already, I suggest that you do.)

This issue also led me to think about visible versus invisible community service learning (CSL) work.

What is an example of "visible" CSL work? Just open up the newsletter and look at the image at the top: rubber boots, brightly decorated with images from the local natural environment. That object (the boot) and the image (animals, plants, swamps, etc.) are concrete and easily-recognizable symbols of the wonderful "Wetland Watchers" project for Louisianna middle-schoolers. The images are bright, positive and make you feel that good things are happening.

These students have planted more than 3,900 trees (p. 3), they wear matching bright green t-shirts, they can tell you the salinity of the water, and the program director can take a reporter to their work sites and sweep his arm out to show "an area that is now teeming with life — 200-year-old palmetto fan trees, engaged students, and native 'critters' like baby alligators that are the teaching tools of this reclaimed wilderness."

Those are powerful images and numbers.

That's part of the reason why, I'm sure, Monsanto and Shell Oil contribute resources to the project.

So how can we "show" Spanish CSL work?

Fill a piñata with bilingual dictionaries, globes and Mexican candies? Cheesy.

Unfurl a flag (Mexican? Guatemalan? the stars and stripes?) and have students and community members autograph it? Ugh.
Sombreros? Just shoot me.

Fill a backpack with "welcome" items (dictionaries, coupons, maps, university t-shirt, etc.) for recently arrived latino immigrants? Warmer.

Obviously, this isn't just about copying the shrimp boots idea. It's about symbolizing the importance of our invisible tools of Spanish CSL: words and cultural knowledge. And while I don't have this fully thought out yet, I do understand its importance.

The university (and students, too, in a way) measure success with deliverables, quanitifiables. So, while I understand the importance of my program's numbers (number of student participants, community partners, and total hours of service), it's harder for me to show visible results. I can't point to trees that weren't there before. I can't show you rising (falling?) saline levels in the water. And I can't tell Monsanto, "In exchange for your resources, I will give you photos for your annual report and corporate social responsibility webpage."

Maybe you can "see" Spanish CSL more clearly than I can. What concrete objects could symbolize Spanish CSL? What items could we measure and quantify to show the "before" and "after?"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Photography and Reflection

by Ann Abbott

Writing, I've always known, is not the only way to reflect. In Comunidades there is a picture of a young woman writing in a blank book (p. 128). The caption I wrote says,

"¿Es la escritura la única manera de reflexionar? ¿Hay otras maneras de expresar las ideas que surgen cuando reflexionas? ¿Qué piensas de estas otras maneras de concretizar tus ideas? Por ejemplo: dibujar, filmar, sacar fotos, charlar, crear música."

Yet in my Spanish community service learning (CSL) courses I tend to emphasize reflective writing. On the one hand, we're used to reading students' writing and we know exactly how to grade it. I used to have students do five-minute oral reflective videos with a webcamera and post them to YouTube, but many students simply couldn't handle the assignment and flooded my TAs with technical questions. Unfortunately, I had to stop using that assignment.

On the other hand, new formats can bring out new insights. So it's important that we experiment and at least try to overcome the obstacles that may arise. Many people and organizations are already doing that:

This semester, I plan to offer my Spanish CSL students a prize for best reflective photograph and caption. I'll announce it here in a few weeks.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

10 Everyday Ways to Improve Your Spanish Language Skills

This blog focuses on Spanish community service learning (CSL) students, but we cannot forget that they are first and foremost Spanish students. All the best practices for teaching Spanish still apply, you just add on more layers when you have them work in the community with native speakers to solve real-world problems. The following blog post by Rose Jensen (accredited online college; Rose.Jensen28@ offers tips for all language learners. For more from Rose, I suggest her post on "101 Tools to Learn ANY Foreign Language for Free"--Ann

Learning a new language can be exciting and enlightening, but it can also be challenging especially when you’re trying to grasp the finer points of conjugation, pronunciation and pick up less than common terms. You can help yourself learn to speak more fluently and maybe even learn a little more about Spanish-speaking cultures by using these simple ways to flex your language muscles.

  1. Read newspapers and books in Spanish. Even if you don’t live in an area where print versions of these kinds of publications are readily available in general the online versions are free to look through and read. Check out sites like BBC Mundo, El País, La Jornada to learn language skills while reading the news.
  2. Talk to other Spanish speakers. There is really no better way to become a better Spanish speaker than to practice with others who are native speakers. Never miss a chance to speak Spanish when you can, even if it’s just to order some food or say hello.
  3. Ask for feedback. You can practice speaking Spanish all you like, but if you don’t get some constructive criticism you’ll never know what you’re doing wrong. Ask others to correct you when you make a mistake or inquire about things that you’re not quite sure about.
  4. Watch movies or television. Improving your Spanish skills can be entertaining when you simply flip on the TV and catch up with a telenovella or a movie being televised in Spanish. If you don’t get Spanish language channels, check out movies by Julio Medem, Guillermo del Toro, and Pedro Almodóvar.
  5. Use online language exchanges. With technology, people from around the world are literally at your fingertips. Sign up for a site like LiveMocha to chat with native Spanish speakers and in turn help them with their English.
  6. Repetition. There are few things that will drill those new words or concepts into your head like repetition. Make flashcards and review material several times a week to make sure it sticks and doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other.
  7. Sign up for a word of the day. offers a Spanish word of the day delivered to your inbox, or if you have an iGoogle set up you can see it every time you start your web browser. You might be able to pick up a few terms here and there that can be pretty useful in conversation or writing.
  8. Make it fun. Learning a new language shouldn’t be a dreaded task—it should be something that’s fun and engaging. Seek out ways that you can learn without feeling bored, whether that’s playing games or watching movies.
  9. Learn root words. Knowing a little Latin can take you a long way when it comes to romance languages. Try learning some of the roots to words, or think of words you know in English that have similar prefixes or suffixes to puzzle out what words might mean.
  10. Immerse yourself in local culture. Whether you seek out a cultural event, take a trip, or join a club, there are few more fun ways to learn a language than learning more about the people who use it every day.

This post was contributed by Rose Jensen, who writes about the accredited online college. She welcomes your feedback at Rose.Jensen28@

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Career Choices and Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

I received an e-mail (quoted below) from a former student, Megan Knight, who did Spanish community service learning (CSL) with me last semester and did a Spanish & Illinois Summer Internship over the summer. Megan also blogged here last semester for honors credit in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship Course." Obviously, Megan is an exceptional student with a lot of talent and initiative.

She's also a lot like many students of mine: she's talented in many areas and that sometimes makes it more difficult to hone in on one single career path.

So I like the fact that Spanish CSL contributed in some way to the decisions she is making about her career and how she can use Spanish to contribute to increased access to social services and representation for Spanish-speakers in the US.

Not only do our students get to see the kind of work that happens in the offices and classrooms of our community partners, the employees who supervise them can serve as formal or informal mentors. In the past, students who have done their CSL work at the Refugee Center have decided that they wanted a career in social work or law. One student who worked at the Champaign County Health Care Consumers decided to pursue a career in the non-profit sector. Many of our students' work in classrooms confirms their decision to study education, and other students have told me that it has made them switch to education.

What career paths can your students explore while working with your community partners? Try making those connections explicit for them, either in reflective essays or in-class activities.

Here is Megan's message:

"I really enjoyed working at Child Care Resource Services (CCRS) this summer, and it was a huge eye opener into what it would be like to work for a social agency. I feel like my Spanish definitely improved because of my time there, and my confidence also increased.

"What I enjoyed most about working at CCRS was speaking one on one with the clients in Spanish, knowing that no one else in the office could understand us, and what we were saying was confidential. It was obvious that Spanish speakers suffer many hardships here in the US, and being bilingual would really help me be able to help them.

"I'm thinking about going to grad school for an MSW, and... I've been looking for schools that offer certificates for working with Latino clients or schools that offer semester or summer abroad programs in Spanish speaking countries so I can continue learning and improving. I think I want to be a licensed clinical social worker or a school social worker (it's so hard to choose!!), and I definitely would like to be able to serve the Latino population."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Have You Heard from Your Community Partners Lately?

by Ann Abbott

I try to always be honest on this blog, even when it isn't very flattering. So, I confess that last week when I was talking to community partners, I heard something that didn't make me very proud.

I made a phone call to one of the community partners to confirm details for this semester. While we were on the phone, I asked her about something else, which led her to tell me about a group of students she had in a past semester who caused her a lot of trouble. They didn't come when they said they would. They made excuses. They were a headache for her.

Here's the most embarassing part: I didn't know that had happened to her!

She hastened to add that all the other groups from all the other semesters had been wonderful. She even apologized to me for not returning my messages to tell me that there was a problem. But the truth is, it is my responsibility to make sure things are going well with my community partners. I thought I had it under control: I sent e-mails urging my partners to let me know if they had any problems. I left voice-mails saying the same thing. I would wave and say hello to my community partners when I ran into them, opening up the lines of communication. But I should have gotten in the car, driven to all the offices, looked them in the faces and said, "Is everything okay?" They are simply too busy to always return phone calls and messages.

And probably a little uncomfortable, too.

So, here's what I will do from now on:
  1. Continue sending e-mails and making phone calls frequently, but add a personal visit to every site, every semester.
  2. Continue doing everything else I already do, because things are going very well over-all. In fact, this partner trusted in our partnership enough to continue receiving students during following semesters despite this very bad experience. Of course, one more bad experience like that, and she'll probably pull the plug.

I'll be on the watch out. And I'll be knocking on doors this semester.