Monday, April 5, 2010

Student Reflection

by Lara Sanoica

My name is Lara Sanoica and I am a first year student double majoring in Global Studies and Spanish. I have always found opportunities to use Spanish outside of the classroom, and I think that is probably why I can speak it. When I hear people say, “Yeah, I took four years of Spanish in high school, but I can’t understand a word,” I ask them if they ever practiced once they left class. The answer is always a unanimous no. This pattern is common to other second language learners too. More than any other subject, applying language classes to the real world is essential for retention and proficiency. If a person is just going to sit through grammar drills twice a week, he won’t remember enough to effectively communicate.

I have personally been involved in the reversal of this trend. I am a group facilitator for the campus Mi Pueblo organization (a Facebook group that sets up physical meeting times to have informal Spanish conversations), and a strong advocate for study abroad. In high school I participated in a short summer program in Spain, and this past winter I spent time in Peru through the University of Illinois. Both experiences have proved to be tremendously rewarding and of course involved ample linguistic contact with native Spanish speakers. However, study abroad is not the only way to practice, especially in Illinois. In my hometown outside of Chicago, nearly 50% of the population consists of first-generation Mexican immigrants, and I have been able to utilize the Spanish I learned in high school in informal daily interactions and personal friendships.

Taking those interactions a step further, I got involved with local volunteer organizations that addressed social needs within the community: food banks, clothing drives, and fundraising activities to finance other social services and traveling clinics. There was always a demand for proficient Spanish speakers. The service was important to me and I was happy to help, but I also often felt frustrated working as a volunteer. Volunteers were given necessary but monotonous tasks; jobs that required little skill and creativity but were always much appreciated. Still, I yearned to make a bigger impact.

On campus, I found a volunteer opportunity with Nuestra Voz that would not only allow me to work with other innovators, but to help out on an international scale. More importantly, because Nuestra Voz is a relatively new endeavor and is open to suggestion, I would be given a lot more freedom to improve upon developing projects. I saw the research pilot as an opportunity to creatively solve problems and use Spanish at the same time. As a Spanish Major, I wanted to continue to take my language abilities to a professional level. A large component of Nuestra Voz involves international cooperation with Spanish speakers in Costa Rica—a partnership that reflects upon the skills necessary for future collaboration in the working world. I would like to take this opportunity to build those skills. Working with Nuestra Voz will allow me to reach this goal.

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