About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 14, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 11
A New Way to Learn Español

The Spanish Through the Eyes team — Regina Galasso, Ann de Leon and Citlali Miranda-Aldaco — in the editing room of the Center for Educational Resources.

More than 100 Hispanic Baltimoreans lend their voices to JHU project

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The Italian film industry had its spaghetti western, and to hear Regina Galasso describe it, the Spanish language classroom often boasts the taco tutorial.

Galasso, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, is referring to the instructional videos, many circa 1980s, in which actors in a studio offer up scripted and often mannered dialogues about cliched Hispanic topics such as Mexican fiestas, bullfighting and soccer matches.

While these films and actors attempt to portray a "reality" of Spanish speakers and language, many instructors believe the productions illustrate the lack of focus in the language field on Spanish speakers living in the United States. So lecturer Citlali Miranda-Aldaco, joined by Galasso and Ann de Leon, now a fifth-year doctoral student, set out two years ago to create an American-centered audio-visual component to assist Johns Hopkins students who are learning Spanish.

Specifically, they wanted to interview members of the local Hispanic population and let them talk about their experiences here in Baltimore. The result is the cutting-edge video project called Spanish Through the Eyes: An Exploration of Hispanic Language, Life and Culture in Baltimore.

The group will present the project this week at the annual meeting and exposition of the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, being held Nov. 17 to 20 in Baltimore. The event, at the Hyatt Regency and Baltimore Convention Center, brings together more than 5,000 teachers, administrators and students of foreign languages from across the world to discuss topics including assessment, curriculum, methods, standards and technology.

For the project, Galasso and de Leon have to date interviewed more than 100 people from all walks of life, from construction workers to neurosurgeons, and from high school students to doctoral candidates. They film and interview the people where they live and work in order to present a voice and face of the Spanish-speaking community of Baltimore. Sergio Gutierrez, a senior chief interoperative monitoring technician at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, talked, for example, about his experiences as a doctor in Cuba and raising a Hispanic child in America. Claudia Menanteau spoke of her career as an art director at U.S. Lacrosse and how she came to the United States from Chile.

The edited interviews are archived on Web CT, an online courseware package, so students can watch the clips and then complete an attached quiz that tests their listening comprehension. The clips also become fodder for classroom discussions, based on the critical issues addressed by one speaker or focused around a theme, such as immigration. The interviews and corresponding classroom discussions will ultimately become the basis for required essays.

Examples of the issues raised in the interviews are technology and progress, human rights, health care, arts and entertainment, economy and the workplace, culinary arts, war, gender issues and Hispanic life in the United States. The interviews strive to create connections between the students and the local community, addressing current social concerns.

The collection of interview subjects is diverse, not only in age and occupation but by ethnicity. Miranda-Aldaco said that, partly by chance, most of the more than 20 Spanish-speaking regions are represented, including Spain, Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

"We are hoping to help students see the Spanish language class in a holistic way, not only as a place where they learn Spanish as a tool for communication but also as a place where they become culturally competent in the over 20 Spanish-speaking cultures that live within their own local community," she said. "In other words, we hope that our students will not only gain from this project a greater command of the Spanish language and its diversity of accents, transformations and the like, but also that they will learn to think critically about the society in which they live."

The project started with a Technology Fellowship awarded by the university's Center for Educational Resources. Later, due to the rapid growth of the work, the colleagues applied for and were awarded an Arthur Vining Davis Grant for Critical Thinking in the Humanities, which helped the group expand its efforts.

Miranda-Aldaco said the project would not have been possible without the support of Stephen Nichols, chair of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, and that the CER staff have also been "incredibly supportive."

"They are very resourceful and always go the extra mile to help us," she said.

The video clips were piloted this summer in four courses: Elements I, Elements II, Intermediate I and Intermediate II. This fall, they are being used in the Intermediate II and Advanced Intermediate courses as part of the curriculum. Ann de Leon uses them as supplementary material in her Advanced I course.

Previously, students in the elementary and intermediate Spanish-language courses watched a film series as part of the auditory comprehension component. The episodes, filmed in the 1980s, most often had very little or nothing to do with the unit themes and/or class discussions.

Students now watch the Baltimore video clips as part of homework and during class time. The clips have become an integral part of the students' learning experience, Miranda-Aldaco said, as the interviewees discuss a variety of themes encouraging the students to think critically about real-life situations.

Miranda-Aldaco said that the project has generated much interest in the foreign language community and that other higher-education institutions in the area, including Goucher College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County are interested in using the project in their Spanish classes.

"And other languages are interested in creating a similar project for their language, and other areas of study are interested in using our material in their classes," she said.

Most of the project's subjects have agreed not only to be interviewed again for Spanish courses but also to have students contact them directly, whether for these classes or research work in other disciplines, such as sociology.

Galasso said the clips also can serve as a historical record, as they document a time in the history of Baltimore. If the project is successful and continues to expand, she said, years from now students could review past video clips in contrast with their present-time recordings.

The dimensions of the project, the Spanish Through the Eyes team said, are somewhat endless.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |