December 2, 2016

Learning and Living the Spanish Language

Learning and Living the Spanish Language
Students take part in a mock Guatemalan wedding ceremony. Photo: Aubrey McMullin
January 6, 2011

Four weeks in Guatemala sounds like an ideal winter break excursion. For Principia students, it’s also an immersive opportunity for language and cultural learning.

In 2009, working hand-in-hand with a Guatemalan language school, Principia College piloted a new language program. Five students traveled to Guatemala for four weeks to improve their Spanish through one-on-one instruction with tutors, group field trips, and homestays. The results were outstanding; most students jumped two language levels. Four short weeks abroad replaced 10 or 20 weeks of on-campus study.

With outcomes like that, eight more College students journeyed to Central America with Spanish professor and program leader Cecily Quintanilla during this most recent winter break. Clearly enjoying the experience, sophomore Katie Hynd wrote from abroad, “The one-on-one tutoring is amazing. I really enjoy how much I get out of my lessons, and there is no room for faking.”

In addition to developing greater fluency in Spanish, the program fosters cultural awareness and understanding. Students stay in the historically preserved inland city of Antigua, a picturesque destination filled with a rich mix of indigenous cultures and European influences. Hynd says of the location, “Antigua has cobblestoned streets, and all of the houses are painted bright orange, pink, blue, or green.” Antigua is also recognized as one of the most popular cities to study Spanish in all of Latin America.

While in Guatemala, students took a series of day trips to destinations and events including coffee plantations, volcanic ash beaches, a Mayan archeological site, open markets, soccer games, a traditional music museum, and a textile-weaving workshop. Even though students weren’t always sitting in a traditional classroom, their Spanish lessons rarely came to a halt. Tutors often took part in these excursions, both to avoid losing class time and to take advantage of spontaneous learning opportunities. The students also ventured into Guatemala City to attend a church service at the country’s only Christian Science society.

Describing the progress students make in this program, Quintanilla emphasizes the significance of seven hours of daily tutoring. She also credits the increased desire to communicate created by being in another country. “Students want to talk with their host family. They want to buy food,” she explains. “It’s all about experiential learning and cultural activity.”

“I believe every student should have this opportunity,” says Quintanilla. Hopeful that this program will lead to similar options for other languages taught at Principia College, Quintanilla adds, “We’re opening up the world for them.”

  • Janice McAloney Elmore

    Principia College offered the same Abroad during winter quarter 1980. I went on it and had the experience of a lifetime. It gave me a love for the people, culture and countryside of Guatemala. Many memorable highlights. – Janice McAloney Elmore, C’83

  • Mirenlopezdeaberasturi

    Sin duda, es la mejor forma de aprender un idioma: viviéndolo  desde dentro, en su contexto.