You may be surprised to learn that through USAC you can complete up to two years of college-level language requirements in just one semester! We call these our intensive language tracks. A track is a set of courses that are taught in a sequential format. Each course is taught intensively for a section of the semester.
How does a track work?
If you are enrolled in Spanish Track I, you will take Elementary Spanish I for the first 4 ½ weeks, followed by Elementary Spanish II for the next 4 ½ weeks, then Intermediate I for the next 3 weeks, and finally Intermediate II for the last 3 weeks.
This is a great option for language majors and minors or those interested in becoming proficient in a specific language.
The USAC difference
USAC offers courses in Spanish language at 10 program sites in four countries (Chile, Costa Rica, Spain, and Uruguay/Argentina). Given the number and variety of Spanish language courses offered, USAC employs a Spanish Language Coordinator who oversees the design and implementation of the Spanish language curriculum. Her name is Asun Martinez, PhD.
We recently spoke with Asun about what makes USAC’s Spanish language tracks different from other study abroad programs and why language is an important part of today’s college education. Here’s what she told us.
In what ways do you keep USAC ahead of the times when it comes to our language courses?
Comparing to some Spanish courses in the US, I think our language courses are very innovative because they all include oral tasks and projects that crucially involve critical observation and participation in local life or events and, very often, interacting or talking to local people. Learning Spanish abroad has a very clear experiential component that is missing in the US unless the student lives close to a Spanish-speaking community and is asked to do something in that community. We are also gradually incorporating technology in our courses but in a sensible and thoughtful way. In the US it makes sense to connect students to Spanish speakers through a computer but I still believe that nothing can substitute for a meaningful and spontaneous face-to-face conversation with a local person.
How do you modify curriculum to work in various cultures?
There is a common thread in our courses so that language courses cover the same grammar and vocabulary and have identical requirements in every site, but I make sure that our courses are closely connected to the local culture; the Spanish expressions that students hear from the families and people in the streets are not usually in the textbooks. Our teachers are very good cultural mediators and help students understand the common structure of the Spanish language as well as the expressions and vocabulary with a local flavor. In addition to this, every class has a reading component that is connected to the local community, so that in Spain we read Spanish authors, in Chile, Chilean and in Costa Rica, Costa Rican.
Why is language important?
A new language gives you a new fresh look to the world around you. I always tell students that learning a language is like trying new glasses on…your surroundings change, you notice new things, other things become less salient… there is very interesting research about how studying a language can even change your personality or identity in a positive way! Not to mention that the whole study abroad experience will probably make you more independent, more flexible, and tolerant towards ambiguity or uncertainties. And learning Spanish will probably make possible many interesting encounters when you travel or on the web.
What is something that USAC does differently than our competitors?
The very fact that USAC has a full-time language coordinator shows that we care about the quality of our language instruction and we make extra efforts to excel in this area. The students´recommendation in our language classes is very often a 100% with comments about the instructors as role models for their future.
Also, it is worth mentioning that very few programs offer what we call the “track system,” which was designed before I joined USAC, and a great idea to fully immerse yourself in the language with intensive classes from Monday to Friday. Students can make up to two years of college Spanish in one semester, even students that have never taken Spanish before, but they have to be aware that this requires daily intensive work. The track system is a great opportunity to obtain many college credits in Spanish that few other study abroad programs offer.
What should a student enrolling into these classes expect in the summer? Semester?
In each summer session, students can complete a three or four-credit language course. Just as summer sessions at US universities, this requires being in class from Monday to Friday and quite a lot of daily homework. If they stay for the two sessions, they can move from zero to intermediate Spanish or from intermediate to composition. It is a fast and efficient way to learn the language, besides getting the university credits for Spanish. In addition, they can practice with a partner, family or with locals what they have just learned in class.
During the semester, there are different combinations of courses within the tracks in each program and I am sure that students can find what suits their interests and fits into their university majors and minors.
Our language tracks are designed to make you learn oral and written Spanish in a quick and efficient way so that you are equipped to engage in conversations but you will also learn the academic Spanish needed to succeed in future university courses back in your home institution. The more involved students are in the classroom activities, the better prepared they will be to perform outside with people who are not used to talking to learners of the language. In that sense, the language class can act as a safety net where you can try new things out with your teachers and classroom peers without consequences.