It takes a lot of courage to travel to another country where they speak a different language, but when language is what you’re studying, making that leap can lead to some valuable insights.
Maria Jose Villalobos Sanchez and Denisse Concepcion Rios, who are both studying to teach foreign languages, spent three weeks visiting Lynchburg College to get a sense of how languages are taught in the United States versus how they’re taught in their home state of Oaxaca, Mexico.
The students saw an opportunity to visit the U.S. and Lynchburg College via the College’s recently announced partnership with Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca (UABJO), a public university in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico.
Villalobos and Concepcion wanted to visit Lynchburg to carry out separate projects, hoping to get a different perspective on building language fluency and learn different approaches and strategies for instruction to take back home to Mexico.
In some ways, they found that programs at UABJO and Lynchburg were very similar. In both places, students were tasked with making videos of themselves speaking entirely in their non-native language. “They’re all good, but they have the same problems with learning languages in the same ways with the same behaviors,” Concepcion said, mentioning that students at UABJO and Lynchburg seemed to struggle with shyness and self-consciousness when speaking the languages they were trying to master.
Seeing that some of those behaviors seemed universal to all students learning foreign languages, both Concepcion and Villalobos said they gained new insights into how to react to students who seemed to struggle the most with discomfort as opposed to the subject matter.
While Concepcion was focusing more on discovering different approaches and strategies, Villalobos was concentrating on how students can improve fluency through immersion with native-language speakers. While Villalobos wasn’t specifically trying to improve her English-speaking skills, she found that being with native English speakers at Lynchburg was both a learning and growing experience.
“Every day has been a challenge,” she said, “because everything is in English.”
Concepcion seconded Villalobos, adding, “English is my second language and it’s been very demanding to go to another country and speak their language. There is slang and other things you don’t learn in class.”
Throughout the experience, Concepcion and Villalobos said they appreciated the warm welcome they received from the Lynchburg community and the ability to experience a bit of the life of their peers in the U.S. They also got the chance to visit Washington, D.C., and were able to attend a conference of Spanish professors at the University of Virginia. What they heard from teachers in the U.S. was similar to what they hear from teachers in Mexico, Concepcion said. “They need more material support in both places,” she said. “Books, paper, and teaching and learning tools.”
Despite similarities between their experiences at UBAJO and Lynchburg College, they did see a few differences. One big one: At UBAJO there are no residence halls and students primarily live with their parents. “Staying in the dormitories here was very different than being in school in Mexico,” Villalobos said.
When asked to sum up their experience at Lynchburg, Villalobos said, “It’s a very nice place.”
Concepcion added, “The students are very, very friendly.”