Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Impact of Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

Do you have to hand in an end-of-the-year activities report? Do you hate doing it? Does it feel like bean counting?

I know the feeling. But looking at the numbers can actually be helpful. Your community partners have to do this kind of reporting all the time when they apply for and report back on grants and within their internal and external communications.

There are many ways to measure activity, importance and impact. Numbers do not tell the whole story. But they are one piece of the puzzle. And here are my numbers regarding teaching and program coordination for academic year 2010-11. (OJO: the numbers represent available spaces in the courses I teach/coordinate; I did not count actual enrollments in each and every section. Hence the phrase, "up to.")
  • 5 courses taught/coordinated 
    • SPAN 202 Business Spanish
    • SPAN 208 Oral Spanish
    • SPAN 228 Spanish Composition
    • SPAN 232 Spanish in the Community
    • SPAN 332 Spanish & Entrepreneurship
  • 725 (up to) students in all five courses
  • 13 TAs (up to) per semester teaching these courses
  • 12 community partners
  • 165 (up to) students in a CSL course
  • 37 honors projects (language-learning social networking sites and student reflection blog posts here)
What are your numbers for this year? What other "data" do you think tells the story your course or program's impact? How do you measure quality versus quantity? Leave a comment to let us know!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Student Reflection

by Hanna Perhai

Hello, once again! Now, unfortunately, for the last time.

The semester has flown by, especially my time in Spanish in the Community. I'd just like to close the semester with some highlights from my experience with S.O.A.R.

My favorite thing, by far, has been getting to know my student. Over the months, I've learned how he learns best, where his strengths lie, and what he likes to do. I know that mental math is not his strong suit, but he almost always gets the right answer if he just writes out the problem. He reads very well in both Spanish and English, but he understands the story better if he reads it in Spanish.
We got the chance to read through a substantially long book in Spanish about Bambi. This was one of the best parts of my time with my student. We switched reading every page so that he would get practice reading a difficult book, and then I got practice reading out loud in Spanish. I honestly think that if a person were to listen to us both reading aloud, they would think we were at the same reading level! But it was excellent practice for us both, and we were able to bond over a common love for Disney.

So, there have been really rewarding experiences for which I'm truly grateful, but that's not to say it's all been fun and easy. I know I've outlined some challenges in previous posts, but this week, during my last day volunteering, I probably faced my biggest one.
I feel like everyone that is volunteering for other organizations, like the Refugee Center, has more difficult situations to deal with. All I have to do is talk to kids who don't care if I make mistakes or don't know all the words. Yesterday, however, I was doing some extra hours and helping some of the S.O.A.R. kids, including my student, take a survey for Abriendo Caminos. I stayed until all of the students were picked up after school except for mine, whose family wasn't showing up. So I was left with my student and the non-Spanish-speaking director of the program.
Long story short, I was expected to call my student's parent and make sure she was going to be able to pick him up. I understood very little of what she was saying, but I did my best to relay the message. I honestly do not feel like I did a good job at all. However, it's a learning experience, and it was definitely good practice, so I don't regret having the opportunity to make a fool of myself on the phone. :)

Along with these challenges, I've seen the need in the community for good education and interaction with these kids, and it's become a cause very special to me. Next semester, I'll be studying abroad in Spain, but I plan to continue to volunteer with S.O.A.R. upon my return in the spring. Now, if you remember, I had three goals I wanted to complete this semester, which I wrote about in my very first post:
  1. Become more comfortable with Spanish. Well, I still have a long way to go, but I definitely feel that I've made lots of improvements with my speaking skills. I'm now more willing to talk in Spanish in public, when before, even that was a feat.
  2. Make a difference. So, I know that I can't change someone's life drastically through two hours a week, but I know that my being there every week to work with my student had an impact. I might not see it explicitly, but I still feel like I've done something for the community.
  3. Have fun! I definitely did this. :) Sometimes it was stressful, but overall, working with S.O.A.R. was a blast.
Okay, so this was a lot longer of a post than I was planning on writing. But it's the last one, so I figure that's fine. I'm so grateful for the experience to use my Spanish in the community, and I hope to keep using it for years to come!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Videos for Comunidades: Más allá del aula (3)

[Note from Ann Abbott: As an extra project, one of the "Spanish in the Community" students watched the videos that accompany Comunidades: Más allá del aula and has blogged about several topics that emerged for her. You can see the videos yourself:
by Haley Dwyer


Although the accents were the most challenging part of watching these videos, the range of topics was the most interesting for me. The vast majority of the topics that were discussed during the videos were both informational and pertinent to the information that I have learned throughout the semester. Because many of the topics that were discussed are not things that I normally talk about, in English or in Spanish, my knowledge of the Spanish language was truly tested.

The main thing that I noticed while I was watching the videos was that I had more difficulty understanding topics that were not interesting or completely new to me. For example, Ruth Montenegro’s, who is from Guatemala, video about business was incredibly difficult for me to understand. In fact, I had to watch all of her videos multiple times to simply get the point of them. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the words, because she did not use complex or technical vocabulary. Instead I was simply not able to connect the words into sentences that made logical sense. It was almost as if she was speaking in strands of completely unrelated words. After reading the summary that is associated with each video and watching the videos multiple times, I did eventually grasp what Ruth was trying to say to the viewers. This phenomenon has never happened to me before and I was shocked when it did. The only reason that I can guess why this happened was because she was using words in a context that I was completely unfamiliar with.

Along with the difficulties that I encountered with Ruth Montenegro, I also encountered difficulties of a different kind while watching the videos of Luz Río, from Colombia. Because she was talking about bilingual education, a topic that I had no prior experience with, I found that I needed to look up many words so that I could grasp what she was saying. I think that because she is a well-educated woman who was talking about a specific topic that I am not familiar with, the vocabulary that she used was simply outside of what I have learned. Although it was difficult to watch this set of videos, I found the challenge interesting and rewarding when I could finally understand what she was saying.

Personally, my favorite part of these videos was when the speakers spoke about their home culture. I loved hearing about things that I had never really thought of before, like the fact that each Mexican state has its own unique culture and identity. My favorite person to listen to was probably Leticia Fonseca. Although she was challenging at first, her stories were personal and interesting to listen to. Her antidotes about her trials with the bank were both funny and thought provoking. I never thought of the fact that some countries didn’t use the banking system because it has always been a part of my life. Its little things like this that make a huge impact on the life of an immigrant and yet virtually no impact on the life of an American citizen.

One topic that I was disappointed that was not covered more was the differences between the speaker’s native culture and the American culture. Personally, I think that this would be extremely interesting and I would love to learn more about it. Along with the question of cultural differences, I would have liked to learn more about the differences in the education system. Only one of the speakers, Yolopatti Hernández, talked about the differences that she has seen. I was most curious about whether or not there is bilingual education throughout other Spanish-speaking countries or if it is only widely used in the United States. Besides these two things, I found the videos informative and I wish that they could have been better incorporated into the Spanish in the community syllabus. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Videos for Comunidades: Más allá del aula (2)

[Note from Ann Abbott: As an extra project, one of the "Spanish in the Community" students watched the videos that accompany Comunidades: Más allá del aula and has blogged about several topics that emerged for her. You can see the videos yourself:
by Haley Dwyer


Throughout watching these videos, the one thing that I believe challenged my Spanish the most is the varying accents that I heard. Because most of my Spanish language learning has been spent in a classroom and not traveling the world, I have only been exposed to a few different accents. Listening to the different accents was both frustrating and enjoyable. Not only did the accents make what the speakers were saying easier or difficult to understand but I also noticed that the way in which they spoke made a huge difference in my comprehension levels. Whether they used their voice to emphasize certain words, where they put the stress, and even whether or not they used hand gestures played a very large part in my comprehension level.

After watching the videos, I realized that I really hadn’t heard a large variety of Spanish accents and it left me wanting to learn more. I was the most comfortable with the different Mexican accents, which is probably because I have had the most experience with them. There were a few accents that I heard that I actually had a hard time understanding, which I was surprised about. Watching these videos, made me realize the extreme difference in Spanish and Argentinean accents. Although I have had a TA from both of these countries, watching these videos made me realize that they really do change their accent in class so that we can understand them better. I was honestly shocked when I heard the Argentinean accent because it was so different to what I was used, to the point where I almost could not understand what was being said.

Although some of the accents left me stumped, I found hand gestures and vocal inflections very helpful. I learned that hand gestures are not common in all Spanish speakers, which I found strange. Instead, I now think of them as almost cultural. In the past, every Spanish speaker that I have met likes to use their hands to talk; in fact they are almost vital to any conversation. After watching these videos, I noticed a stark difference in whether or not hand gestures were used. In fact, I noticed that the use of hand gestures actually helped with my comprehension levels. For example, I had the hardest time understanding Leticia Fonseca, who is from Honduras, at first. The first time that Leticia appeared on film, I had to watch the video a couple of times to fully understand what she was talking about. Luckily Leticia liked to use hand gestures and a lot of vocal inflection when she was telling a story. This helped to fill in the large gap that sometimes appeared because of her accent or my lack of vocabulary. After watching Leticia multiple times, I actually grew accustomed to her and by the end I could understand exactly what she was saying without relying on her hand gestures.

Hearing and seeing these native speakers speak made me want to go and explore the world even more than I already do. It showed me that I am not aware in the variance in language that can occur from one country to the next. The stark contrast that I saw in some of the accents taught me really how to listen to a native Spanish speaker in an attempt to fully understand what they are saying. I think that the videos helped me to look practice looking past accents that I am unfamiliar with and instead focus on the content that the speaker is attempting to get across. Ultimately, I was not only challenged by the accents but also the range of topics that were discussed, which I will talk about in my next posting. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Videos for Comunidades: Más allá del aula (1)

[Note from Ann Abbott: As an extra project, one of the "Spanish in the Community" students watched the videos that accompany Comunidades: Más allá del aula and has blogged about several topics that emerged for her. You can see the videos yourself:
by Haley Dwyer

Language Learning

Along with our Spanish in the Community textbook comes a supplemental website that is full of interesting resources that I was unaware of. For example, there are about thirteen different sets of videos from native Spanish speakers. These videos cover every topic imaginable with speakers from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Watching all of these videos taught me many different things.  Because I have not been exposed to that many different types of speakers, it was interesting to test my knowledge of the Spanish language. Ultimately, I think that they did aid in my overall learning of the Spanish language in many different ways.

I feel that watching these series of videos first and foremost expanded my vocabulary. Because these videos talked about many different topics, I was able to put words into contexts that I had never before been able to do. For example, Sebastían Burset, who is from Argentina, used the word lindo multiple times. While I was watching this video, I was extremely confused as to what this word meant. Ultimately, I decided to stop the video and attempt to figure it out. After trying multiple different spellings on a few translation sites, I learned that lindo was an adjective that meant pretty or lovely. Immediately, everything that Sebastían was saying about Argentina made sense. It was amazing to me that one simple word could make the difference in my entire comprehension of his conversation. Because of the importance that a few words can make in comprehension, I am glad at this ability to expand my vocabulary a little further.

Along with learning new words, the videos also helped me to review words that I had once learned. Since the topics of the videos varied, I also had to use vocabulary that I had not used in a very long time. This helped me to practice my recall of the Spanish language. For example, in one of her talks Leticia Fonseca talked about the types of food that people eat here. I had not learned the names of foods since high school Spanish classes and I was shocked to learn that I still remembered many of the foods. I believe that a lot Spanish recall comes from immersion. I think that immersing yourself in a language is the quickest and most efficient way to learn it and these videos help with that. In fact, the thing that I found most interesting while I was watching these videos was how I took my notes. Throughout all thirteen video sets, I took notes in both Spanish and English. I found it very odd that in one shorthanded sentence, I automatically switched back and forth between Spanish and English. I hope that this is an indication that I am becoming comfortable with my Spanish abilities and not that my brain is cracking from the stress of finals.  

Although I greatly enjoyed watching these videos, there were a few things that I felt could be improved to greater help me with my language learning skills. I would have liked to see a video of two native Spanish speakers interact. When you have a conversation with another person, it is more difficult for an outsider to follow, because you tend to talk faster and with more slang words or phrases. I think this would really test my Spanish abilities and therefore be a great addition to the videos. I would also be curious to know if these speakers are speaking at a normal pace, because I was honestly surprised that I didn’t have to rewatch that many of them. Besides this, I felt that the videos were a great addition to my Spanish language learning because the topics and accents were varied and unique. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Student Reflection

by Kendra Dickinson
Hello all,

As some of you may know, I have been working in the Extension Office of Hispanic Outreach as part of my Capstone Project for my minor in the Environmental Fellows Project. Over the semester I devoted myself to projects such as a Water Quality Survey given to Spanish-speakers, a Latin American Literature Reading Group, researching world environmental, health and hunger problems, translating and editing materials in English and Spanish, and a project called Scientific Animations Without Borders, working on scripts for videos in English and Spanish. Looking back on the semester, I remember when I first approached my minor advisor, looking for a project. He suggested that I find a project to fulfill my minor’s Capstone Project that combined my major, Spanish, and my minor, Environmental Studies, in order to do a multidisciplinary project that used my strengths and put to use my studies here at the university.

Overall, I could not be more happy that I did that, and that I worked in the Extension Office. I have been challenged, confused, stressed, but overall I have been exceptionally fulfilled in knowing that my work and dedication mattered and have made a difference. I have learned about the limitations that language and literacy barriers place on community involvement in creating solutions to environmental issues, and the importance of environmental education that takes into account language, literacy and cultural values. As I prepare to graduate, I know that the skills and knowledge that I have gained as a part of this experience will be invaluable to my future projects. I know that in the future I will continue this kind of work. To anyone that might be reading this, I challenge you to combine your interests and knowledge in the same way that I did to create projects that are specific, innovative and overall effective. Good luck to all of you in your endeavors!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Student Reflection

by April Nwatah

Hey readers!

Can you believe that this semester is coming to an end?! Spring semester always seems to fly faster than fall, and every semester that brings me closer to graduation (Spring 2012) seems to fly faster than any other. It was a surprise to look at my calendar the other day and realize that my last day of volunteering was upon me. Today was my last day volunteering with Salt and Light Ministries and I’m generally not too good with endings. It makes me sad to think that I may never see certain people again. I’ve gotten used to seeing the same kids and families every Monday. It still hasn’t really sunk in that I’m finished…

I guess it’s a good thing that I have plans to keep working in the community! (=

As a student living on campus, it’s generally pretty easy to get caught up in what I like to call “the campus bubble.” In previous semesters at the university I found myself not leaving campus for months at a time. During such periods, I would tend to get quite antsy and bored with my surroundings.  On the other hand, the semesters that I’ve spent volunteering have brought me a lot of joy. Every time I can step off campus and interact with others I feel refreshed afterwards. Last school year I volunteered at the Refugee Center every Saturday mornings helping kids with their homework and taking them on local field trips. A lot of my experiences in the community have overlapped as I’ve run in to some of the same people at the Refugee Center, at Salt and Light, and all over the Champaign-Urbana community!  Some of my most memorable experiences this semester have been running into people from the community at the supermarket, at the mall, etc. With the relationships that I’ve built in the community, it makes me feel like I’m more than just a student in this town.

As for the future, I am spending the summer in Honduras volunteering with an HIV/AIDS facility. I look forward to using the various skills (Spanish skills, interpersonal skills, etc) that I’ve sharpened in this class while I’m in Honduras. As for next fall, I haven’t quite decided where I’ll volunteer next. But with this class and the connections that I’ve made, I’m excited about all of my possibilities!

Until next time!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Student Reflection

by Haley Dwyer

Well, my time at the Refugee Center has finally come to a close and I’m sad to say that unfortunately I have had to call it quits earlier than I thought. Over the past three weeks, I have been getting sicker and sicker. Recently, I found out that not only did I get lucky enough to get mono in the last month of the semester but also I now have a sinus infection along with the mono. Being sick is not fun. When you are sick, going to class, talking to friends, walking up the stairs, and even eating lunch is painful. Add in speaking a foreign language with a native Spanish speaker and it can get overwhelming very quickly. I have learned a lot from being sick and working at the Center over the past couple of weeks.

I learned that it is important to take things slow. When you are sick, there is a large part of your brain that is devoted to simply attempting to deal with being sick, so mistakes are made easier. Although making a mistake is not the end of the world, it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when you are sick. Because of the added stress that your body is under with the sickness, your stress hormones are pumping extra hard and that little tiny mistake can ruin a perfectly good day. After getting frustrated with myself, I realized that I was worrying over nothing. Quickly, I learned that moving forward was the best thing to do in the circumstance. You can’t control your immune system so it is best to learn to work with it instead of against it.

Along with taking things slowly, I learned that sometimes it’s important to ask for a break. Personally, I am the type of person who is really good at pretending they are not sick when they are actually dying on the inside. I simply go about my daily life and pretend that my body is not crying out in pain with everything I do. After dealing with mono, I have learned that sometimes it is best to ask for help. You are not perfect, and everyone gets sick so sometimes calling in a sick day is not the end of the world. That is what I have had to do with my last three weeks at the Center. After being yelled at by both my parents and the doctor, I asked for help and called in a couple sick days. I learned that people are accepting of things that you can’t control and that asking for help is always best. Ultimately, you need to take care of yourself and people generally understand this.

Most importantly, I learned that I can actually speak Spanish when I am not in the “mood”. I know that may sound strange or obvious to some but in the past I have always avoided using Spanish when I’m not up to it or just not feeling my best. Speaking a different language takes a lot of concentration and when I am sick, it is extra effort that I was not willing to give. Now I know that if I just take it slowly and ask for help when I need it, I can speak in Spanish.

Originally when I signed up for this course, I was excited that I had to complete 28 hours in the community. Although it is a large time commitment, I believe that it is one that is achievable for students who are truly looking to improve their Spanish. It is understandable that a professor would get frustrated with students who simply do not hold to this commitment and instead make excuses in an attempt to maintain a decent grade. Along with impacting the professor who coordinates the programs, I think it is important too for the student to realize that their organization is counting on them to volunteer each week. When a student simply stops showing up to volunteer, it can pose a major issue for the organization that they are working with. This is especially true when a sickness arises. Not only will the professor have the added strain of working with the student to complete their hours but the organization is also left without a volunteer. Because I stopped volunteering at such an early point, not only did I put strain on my academic grade but the Center also has to function without the help that I promised. This aspect of getting sick is the most difficult for me.

Although I am sad that my time at the Center has finished, I am glad that I learned how to handle being sick and speaking Spanish before I go to Spain next semester. I am also extremely grateful for the time that I spent in the Center. I can easily say that I learned more about myself, Spanish, and different cultures in the one semester that I spent at the Center than the three other semesters that I have spent taking Spanish courses at the University.