Language Exchange restarts this semester

by Beacon Staff • February 27, 2008

The Language Exchange Program, an Emerson group focusing on the development of language skills and culture through conversation, matches students with primarily Spanish-speaking Emerson facilities and food services employees by language ability.,Emerson students frustrated by the lack of foreign language classes available now have a chance to broaden their linguistic horizons.

The Language Exchange Program, an Emerson group focusing on the development of language skills and culture through conversation, matches students with primarily Spanish-speaking Emerson facilities and food services employees by language ability.

The goal is for the students help their partner learn English and American culture, while also learning conversational Spanish and culture, junior Joleigh Washuta said.

The program was founded in 2004 by Emerson graduate Emily Garr, but with only four student participants and no leadership after Garr graduated, it died off.

Washuta decided to revive it this year and said she hopes the program, co-headed by junior screenwriting major Maxwell Kessler, will emphasize cultural exploration through human interaction.

"People are used to just watching the Travel Channel or learning from a textbook," the marketing communication major said. "Interacting with someone from a different background will hopefully be more beneficial for both the students and employees participating."

The Language Exchange Program is different from the Multicultural Center's Language Immersion Program. While both groups encourage language exploration, the Language Immersion Program does not involve employee-student interaction.

The eleven Language Exchange pairs meet for an hour about once a week, where they ask each other questions, do grammatical exercises and discuss their different cultures and upbringings.

Access to free and convenient English instruction for foreign-born employees is important, said Nestor Carranza, Emerson's manager of custodial services. Carranza said out of the 17 facilities employees he informed about the program, 13 expressed interest in participating.

"Some of these people have been in this country for a long time and never had a chance to go to school," he said. "They have a hard time communicating, so this will be a good experience."

Sophomore Dana Filek-Gibson said she decided to join the program because she was unable to take Spanish classes due to the small number of language courses in Emerson's curriculum and her own scheduling difficulties. According to the Emerson Web site, only elementary Spanish and French classes were available this year.

Filek-Gibson, a Beacon contributer, also said she became involved so she could interact with staff members.

"We see dining hall workers so much, and it would be nice to get to know them," the writing, literature, and publishing major said. "Everyone sees them every day but don't usually give them a second look."

Washuta said she hopes the program will attract more students and become a permanent fixture at Emerson. She also wants to expand the program to include similar conversational sessions for international students transitioning to America.

For now, Washuta said she wants to promote a sense of understanding and respect between students and staff members.

"Some people judge them harshly because they can't speak English well," she said. "I want students to value them and make them feel like part of the Emerson community."