Vermont Students Gain Spanish Skills

Vermont Students Acquire Spanish Language Skills in Record Time

A local Vermont School partners with Middlebury Interactive Languages to serve the needs of students and deliver an innovative language model.

December 5, 2014

I knew it was going to be a memorable day when we drove past the moose-crossing sign on the winding, mountainous and picturesque roads of Vermont. As a multicultural, bilingual citizen of the world, I have experienced large cities and polyglot environments, but never had I come face to face with the culture of moose. I crossed my fingers and mentally called the moose to come forth. We, the Professional Development team at Middlebury Interactive Languages, were on our way to Randolph Technical Career Center (RTCC) to observe the implementation of a full-immersion Spanish and Global Business Management class and interview everyone involved in it.

Randolph is a small town nestled in the Green Mountains of central Vermont. They pride themselves on being extremely self-sufficient and being committed to the town’s future, as well as the pursuit of excellence. The Technical Career Center certainly mirrors these ideals and has an impressive course catalogue that includes: Agricultural Technology, Automotive Technology, Building Trades, Culinary Arts, Diesel Technology, Digital Filmmaking, Environmental Resource Management, Graphic Arts and Technical Health Careers, among others. Although it was the full-immersion Spanish/Global Business Management course that had our full attention, it was evident that RTCC is passionately and purposefully committed to preparing their young population for what's to come.

Unquestionably, preparing youth for the future requires bold and ground-breaking ideas. As a result, the Spanish course, developed by language experts at Middlebury Interactive Languages, is highly innovative and unique. It sets out to achieve in one year what most high schools can barely accomplish in four. As the course description states, “The Randolph Technical Career Center (RTCC), in partnership with Middlebury College and Middlebury Interactive is excited to announce the opening of Vermont's only full Spanish immersion program focusing on global business management. Students who successfully complete this innovative program will not only become fully fluent in Spanish and global business management principles but will also be guaranteed enrollment in Middlebury's Summer Language Institute.”

The word immersion is not used lightly. The students will spend 179 full school days in Spanish with their native Spanish-speaking and business expert instructor Oscar Ruiz. A customized project and business- themed curriculum has been created specifically for this class by Middlebury Interactive experts, which grants students access to all of the Middlebury Interactive Spanish courses. The malleable nature of the courses allows for individualized, self-paced and blended environments to emerge within the day. Students are quickly seeing the results of the Spanish immersion. They claim they are still thinking in Spanish when they exit the classroom door and that the Middlebury Interactive curriculum has been instrumental in fueling their curiosity and drive. They all agree that their favorite aspect of the language is conversing.

Equally motivating is the class field trip scheduled for the spring. They will travel to Peru, in an effort to plunge more authentically into the language and culture. Finally, in the summer they will pledge to spend four weeks speaking, listening, reading and writing nothing but Spanish at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, one of locations of the Summer Language Academies hosted by Middlebury Interactive Languages.  

The group of teenagers is not daunted by the four-week immersion challenge at the Academy. Not surprisingly, they are instead motivated and eager to succeed. As they eloquently stated in Spanish during our interviews, they want to lead bilingual lifestyles for both personal and professional reasons; hence the course for them is not an academic requirement, but more of a personal choice with a passionate purpose behind it. 

The Spanish immersion experience at RTCC is blending innovation and language learning. In almost every change of habit there is an implementation curve backed by research that documents the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual journey experienced by those who undertake a new way of thinking (language learning) and/or doing things (innovative models). The initial stages bring with it excitement and anticipation (generally in the first month, followed by a slow yet steady descent into “survival mode” in the next two months. By November the curve has plunged to an all-time-low and heralds in the “disillusionment” stage.)

Thus, it was no surprise to hear the administrative team and teacher at RTCC describe an overall drop in the level of enthusiasm in comparison to the beginning of the year. Understandably, they were concerned. Having taught languages for 20 years in three different countries I knew that what they were experiencing was not only normal, but to a degree necessary.  

Hence we, the Middlebury Interactive Professional Development team, proceeded to do what we do best: give useful, meaningful and personalized feedback to accelerate the ascent of the curve back into “rejuvenation” and “reflection” phases, and subsequently lead it into an upward spiral into a new phase of anticipation and excitement.

We highlighted the areas of success, which are truly amazing, recognized and praised the persistence, hard work and dedication of all parts, and offered a variety of iterations for areas that had not produced the predicted or desired outcomes. Above all, we reminded everyone that learning a language is a lifelong process that requires commitment, discipline and persistence. However, the most important element seemed to be present and unaffected: a clear, personal, authentic and passionate purpose to communicate in Spanish from the learners.  

Although I didn’t meet eye to eye with a moose, I got a pretty good idea what it feels like to run into “un alce” from my teenage friends in Vermont. They narrated their encounters (using the imperfect and preterit almost perfectly!) and used advanced vocabulary to describe what the culture of moose feels like. 

Lisa Lopez
Lisa Lopez is a Professional Development Specialist at Middlebury Interactive Languages. She loves to dance flamenco and spend time with her family. She has taught English and Spanish to all age levels and abilities for 20 years in three different countries in more than 17 educational settings.
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