Spanish-speaking students learn from each other

A group of students learning the Spanish language at HJ Cody School enjoyed a unique experience.

A group of students learning the Spanish language at HJ Cody School had the fortunate adventure of meeting several people from South America in Red Deer earlier this month.

Lauren Charanduk, a Spanish and humanities teacher at HJ Cody School, took her students to the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) centre in Red Deer, where several adults from South America are learning the English language.

The mini field trip lasted for about an hour, but within that time frame, many new friendships were made between both sets of students.

“It was great for my students,” Charanduk said. “They gave up their lunch period to come with me, which is great of high school students. A lot of the CARE. students had stayed to be able to talk with my students. Both sides made an effort to come together.”

The participating CARE students were of a wide age span, and came from a variety of backgrounds and places, including Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Charanduk said they’re all permanent residents who have the aim of becoming Canadian citizens.

During the one hour of her students conversing with the Spanish-speaking immigrants, her students experienced speaking with a variety of different accents from different countries, giving them the experience of hearing different slangs being used.

“It really opens them up to a whole new world, especially being from Sylvan Lake,” Charanduk said. “There are not many opportunities to speak with a large population of immigrants, especially coming from Third World countries.”

She said it’s an interesting perspective she wanted to share with her students because she thought they would benefit from meeting people with different backgrounds who are doing the same thing her students are — learning another language.

“My students are learning Spanish, those students are learning English,” Charanduk said. “They are both learning. It’s very hard to learn a second language and it shows the dedication that those people are willing to put into their instruction.”

Charanduk said she wanted her students to learn two things — that learning a second language is difficult and requires a lot of work and dedication, and she wanted her students to see and learn how dedicated people can be when they come to Canada and have to learn the English language.

She said a lot of Canadians don’t think about learning a second language because they are somewhat isolated in comparison to places such as Europe.

By taking her students to meet the CARE students, she wanted them to make connections, have a variety of teachers to learn from and feel a sense of community.

“When my students were there it was fantastic because all of these Spanish-speaking people became their teachers and they corrected their pronunciation,” Charanduk said. “They told them which words to say and figured out how to help my students. It’s fascinating when you can have two cultures come together and share their interests.”

Charanduk said she had pre-planned some conversation starters, such as shared interests the students could find common ground on. She even prepared a sheet of sentences in case her students got stuck in a conversation. The interactions were fluid and the students even showed each other family photos on their iPhones.

“It was great because as the conversations went on we switched people around and it became more natural and fluid,” Charanduk said. “A lot of them got off topic and were pointing out pictures of their family on their iPhones — it was fantastic.”

Grade 12 student Madison McDonald said she enjoyed the experience as a way of learning a new language.

“It was awesome to get to speak with people who actually speak the Spanish language, and not just someone else who is learning it as well,” she said. “You get to solidify your knowledge, and even get help with pronunciation and grammar and all that kind of stuff. It was such a good experience to have.”

Grade 10 student Meghan Orich was equally impressed by the opportunity, and said it helped her overcome her fear of speaking in a foreign language.

“I learned not to be afraid to speak in a different language to these people, because they are doing it too,” she said. “I’m not very fluent in Spanish, but we had some pretty decent conversations.”