Photo: California University Using Romance Languages' Similiarities to Teach Students Foreign Language
A program at a California university teaches languages like French and Italian starting with their similarities to Spanish, an idea that is scoring a big success among Hispanics of the region.
“When you know Spanish as well as English, it’s much easier to learn another Romance language like French,” Efren Espinoza, a student of English and French literature at California State University, Long Beach, told Efe.
“I believe that the similarities in grammar, syntax, vocabulary and the masculine and feminine genders of words, which we already know in Spanish, helps us Hispanics learn the other languages that come from Latin much more easily,” he said.
Argentine native Claire Emilie Martin, a professor of Spanish at Cal State Long Beach, told Efe that 10 years ago she and her colleague Cloninda Donato noted that on the lists of students taking French and Italian courses, between 60 percent and 70 percent had Hispanic names.
“And we thought, well, these students already have a good linguistic and cultural background and are interested in studying French or Italian - it’s going to be much easier for them to learn another Romance language with that teaching method developed in France and implemented in Europe since 1997,” Martin said.
“The method we call here ‘Internal Understanding’ is being adapted to the special characteristics of Southern California with its large Hispanic population,” she said.
Donato, director of the university’s George L. Graziadio Center for Italian Studies, told Efe that when she went to work giving French and Italian classes, she saw that “Hispanics and Anglos who speak Spanish do their exercises in Italian or French much quicker.”
“I had to keep them from drifting off to some other subject while I was still explaining grammatical structure to the students who only spoke English,” Donato said.
As a consequence they created French and Italian classes for Spanish-speakers only, in which, from 2007 to the present, they have taught some 850 students using that method.
Priscilla Castro, the daughter of Nicaraguan parents who studies journalism and marketing, told Efe that she learned Spanish at home and English at school.
“When I went to college I saw an announcement that said ‘French for Spanish-speakers,’ so I signed up for it and I find it’s really easy,” Castro said.
“In my French classes I’m learning the grammatical structure of Spanish as well, since it’s the same in both languages,” she said.
Etienne Farreyre, cultural attache at the French Consulate in Los Angeles, told Efe that for more than five years the cultural service of his country has had an institutional relationship with Cal State Long Beach.
“The program of French for Spanish-speakers is an interesting program and unique in the United States, so we want to provide support for a university that teaches European languages by this method,” he said.