UT Spanish classes require too much experience

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Photo Credit: Hilda Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

On my first day of SPN 601D, the professor walked into the classroom speaking rapid Spanish. I felt my anxiety rising as I realized I had no idea what she was saying, despite the years of Spanish I’d taken in high school.

She switched to English to explain some pivotal information about the class, including the alarming statement that this was the most English she would ever speak. This turned out to be mostly true, though she spoke slowly and was patient when we needed her to repeat things or explain them a different way.

Despite my initial anxiety, I was able to fall back on some of the vocabulary and grammar I learned in high school to get through the course. However, my classmates who didn’t take Spanish in high school had to work much harder to keep up.

While immersive teaching styles work for some students, it can cause those with no exposure to the language to feel discouraged about their ability to succeed in the class. For these students, a slower-paced introductory course would be less overwhelming and more effective.

The first course in UT’s Spanish track, SPN 601D, is a rigorous introductory course that aims to cultivate linguistic competence. While the course has no prerequisites, its fast-paced nature can intimidate students lacking prior knowledge of the language. Many students hear about the difficulty of the course from their friends and opt to take easier online classes through other colleges to get their language requirement out of the way. 

Advertising sophomore Marty Abell opted to take Spanish online after hearing about the program’s difficulty. “My roommate is taking Spanish through UT,” Abell said. “I’ve heard her complain many times about the complexity of the course and how it forces her to neglect her other classes.” 

If the Spanish department were to offer a separate introductory class for students with no previous language experience, it could encourage more students to take Spanish at UT. While in-person classes pose certain challenges to students, they result in a more comprehensive understanding of the language after completing the lower-division track.

“I have not learned a lot in my (online) course, because there are always tricks to make it easier and skip through the curriculum quickly,” Abell said. “I would definitely sign up for an introductory course if UT offered it.”

Spanish lecturer Rose Potter believes students are more likely to achieve proficiency by taking classes in-person. “Learning a language is communication,” said Potter. “Communication requires interaction with other human beings. Communication with a machine can be convenient, but you’re not going to get the same support, the same level of nuance.” 

Introducing an accessible in-person class would encourage more students to reap the benefits of learning a new language face-to-face.

This lack of motivation to learn an additional language extends far beyond UT. According to America’s Modern Language Association, the overall number of students at American universities enrolled in language courses has been steadily falling since 2009.

“It’s an enormous loss for us as a nation that we have so many students who are monolingual and monocultural,” said Potter. “It doesn’t matter what job you have, if you’re bilingual, you’ll have more opportunities. When you learn another language, your world doubles.”

If students without prior knowledge had the opportunity to take an introductory Spanish course that catered to their lack of experience, they would feel less intimidated by UT’s demanding program. This way, more students would feel confident that investing time and effort into their Spanish coursework would result in highly valuable personal growth.

Waltz is a radio-television-film senior from Dripping Springs.