New class: Spanish equivalent of Comp I

January 9, 2017

Spanish speakers can improve written Spanish

A new class at Johnson County Community College will help students who grew up speaking Spanish to better learn the spelling, grammar and other rules of their “heritage” language. 

It’s called FL 288, Spanish for Heritage and Advanced Speakers of Spanish. The course is helpful to anyone who knows Spanish but isn’t necessarily capable of writing it well. 

“It’s sort of like Composition I, only in Spanish,” explained Christina Wolff, associate professor of foreign language.  

Why it’s needed 

Classes like this one are being offered in colleges all over the United States, Wolff said, because many Spanish speakers learned spoken Spanish at home but written English (and not written Spanish) in schools. 

To be marketable as bilingual, students need to be able to write professionally in Spanish as well as English. To be hired as a translator, students must master spelling and grammar issues, Wolff said. 

Students will write letters in Spanish, and though they may be excellent Spanish speakers, their written Spanish is riddled with errors,” she said.  

What not to take 

Gloria Rosso, a counselor at JCCC, said she sees a need for a class like FL 288. Rosso emigrated from Colombia and shares a special connection with Spanish-speaking students who enroll at JCCC. 

The need has been there for a long time, and it’s a class we’ve never had before. These students, their parents and grandparents spoke to them in Spanish, and they want to learn more,” Rosso said. “They end up taking Spanish I, and it’s never a good match.” 

That’s because Spanish I, the introductory class, spends long stretches of time on vocabulary and sentence structure – something these students may have learned a long time ago. 

Wolff said two things happen to these students: they either are “bored to tears” and drop the class, or they stick it out but don’t learn much. 

“Either way, it isn’t what they need,” she said. “This class fills that purpose.” 

Po-tay-to, pa-tat-o and Dad 

Wolff said foreign language teachers have realized this niche audience needs help. 

“There’s a very busy forum for teaching heritage speakers on ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language) addressing all levels of Spanish, and for other languages, too, not just Spanish,” she said. 

ACTFL teachers cite a common example: the difference between papa and papá. That one little accent is the difference between “father” and “potato.” Spanish speakers may be able to pronounce the difference without being able to write the difference. 

It can make for strange sentences like, “I love my potato,” Wolff explained. 

To enroll 

Which is which? Sign up for FL 288 (or check the answer here.) Wolff also suggests interested students check with their counselors, since the class currently is not part of the foreign-language sequence and may (or may not) transfer to some four-year schools as an elective.  

For other classes for Spring 2017, check online and enroll today. Most classes begin Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, but late-start classes are available, too.