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A Meticulous Curriculum for a Romance Language

There’s more than meets the ear when it comes to learning a second language at NCC. From starting with basic grammar and vocabulary in basic courses, to intermediate courses that focus on reading and writing, students can work toward mastering a language.

“When you’re starting, [all Spanish course] are basically all the same, it doesn’t matter what institution you’re at.” Spanish professor Sandra Del Cueto said. “You always start with the days of the week, the months of the year, the colors, things like that.”

“The first and second semesters are very based on grammar and pronunciation and listening comprehension, and the intermediate levels are more geared toward reading and writing, which is one of the reasons we have native-speakers and non-native speakers in the intermediate levels because that is where they really develop their reading and writing skills”

All Spanish classes currently use a curriculum based on based on the fifth edition of Vistas, a textbook and online program from Vista Higher Learning or VHL. “Every five years I will select, after investigating and sitting with publishers and listening to their explanation of their product, I will select the one that I think is more applicable to our students,” Del Cueto said.

While VHL does design the book, Del Cueto determines the material covered and assigned.

“This semester I’m using Vistas and I create a template for [the professors],” she said. “Although it’s a strict template, meaning they have to do a certain number of activities with students, it allows them to do what’s required and they have plenty of time to do their own thing. I just need them to do certain activities because at the end of the year I compile data and I need to have consistency between one course and another.”

However, as search engines grow in their capabilities and programs like Google Translate develop, the potential for students to cheat on their homework grows as well. But that does not mean that the classes can be rubber-stamped. “The activities that they have to do online gives them five opportunities to get the answer correct. Because I don’t really want students to feel like their wrong, or their doing something wrong,” Del Cueto said.

“I just want them to eventually get the correct answer, and if that means that they have to take up all five opportunities, then so be it. Some students can get it right off the bat. Whether they’re cheating or not, it doesn’t really matter. By the end of the semester they have to sit with me and converse with me in Spanish. If they haven’t taken the homework seriously, I could tell right away whether they have put into it what they should have.

Course outcomes are also clearly defined.

“By the end of the second semester students should be able to understand questions that people might ask them, and should be able to respond to those questions,” Del Cueto said. “They should be familiar with how to conjugate verbs and the different tenses if they want to talk about things that are happening, occurring presently or things that happened in the past.”

Throughout the semester grammar and vocabulary aren’t the only focus of Del Cueto’s courses. Spanish culture plays an important part in the student’s education as well.

“I want the students to be able to function within a Spanish speaking environment. Not only function, because that only refers to just speaking, but also to understand the culture. It’s very difficult to teach language alone without the culture in which it’s used. I include activities that introduce or present students with various aspects of the culture.”

The benefits of learning a second language go far beyond only travel as well.

“It’s always good to broaden your horizons with knowledge of another language. It serves in so many different ways and it’s applicable to any major. For example, if you’re a business major, you will certainly have Spanish-speaking customers or clients, and it open you up to a larger population. Your target doubles when you have another language.”

Students who take second language courses should prepare to spend time proactively learning according to Del Cueto. “I think they need to rely on themselves a little more. They’ll do the homework, but not take it as seriously, maybe because it’s a software program online. They kind of expect the instructor to kind of put this knowledge in their head.”

“I wish that would switch a little bit so that students just look at us instructors as facilitators. We will help you learn the information, but they have to start by having a serious interest in learning and not waiting for us to magically make them speak in foreign tongues. I like the students that take more responsibility themselves, rather than relying on me.”