“Why should I take a foreign language?”
“What’s the point of even knowing another language?”
Yes, these are some of the usual questions many students ask when they are determining which classes to take each semester. For some, however, choosing to take a foreign language can open doors to opportunities they might otherwise never have had.
Providing a real and practical environment in which to use Spanish and English simultaneously while improving their bilingual terminology was a primary driver for incorporating a service-learning aspect into the Spanish 250 and 350 courses, according to Douglas Jackson, senior instructor for Spanish in the Languages, Literature and Composition Department.
“These courses centered on the teaching of English to speakers of other languages (ESOL),” said David Marlow, professor of linguistics in the Languages, Literature and Composition Department. “Students could choose to participate in a Nicaragua service trip or complete their entire service component in the Upstate. About half chose to travel to Nicaragua.”
For students in Spanish 250 and 350, every minute of the experience turns into language contact time because it is held in a non-traditional learning environment Jackson noted.
“Normally, (regular) classes only meet three hours per week, so what a difference!” he said.
In addition, the spring break trip to Nicaragua offered students an opportunity to implement those classroom concepts in the real world, and for Marlow, that is a central part of integrating service-learning into the course.
Students hit the ground running when they landed in Nicaragua for the week-long adventure by painting schools in need in a tiny rural mountain community; working with officials in the Palacaguina municipality to deliver donated medical supplies; helping provide instruction at a local middle school; and meeting with Peace Corps volunteers working in-country.
“Seeing students implement classroom concepts in the real world is my goal in every course,” noted Marlow. “At a deeper level, I seek to expose students to another culture, to have them view firsthand the struggles non-English language folks face, and (hopefully) to have them establish meaning-filled connections with folks who too often remain invisible or visible on ly in the negative. Service-learning makes this a central part of the experience!”
Through this type of exposure, there is merit beyond just the traditional grammar focus of learning another language, added Jackson.
“David (Marlow) and I are increasing the number of students at USC Upstate who have traveled and studied abroad,” he said. “This trip provides a low-cost alternative to travel through service.”
The value of having students participate more fully in service-learning extends beyond graduation, as well. Studies suggest that students who voluntarily engage in service-learning experiences are much more likely to engage in community service following graduation, emphasized Marlow.
“My goal has always been to encourage students to actively and intentionally apply course content to their present and future lives,” he said. “Service-learning is a great venue through which to pursue these goals.”