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October 24, 2002 Concordia students say Sí to Spanish




by Barbara Castrovillo Seasholtz

Increasingly Concordia students are saying Sí to Concordia’s Spanish program.

“Spanish has grown both in the number of program students and in course enrolment,” said Associate Professor Catherine Vallejo. She is chair of the Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics, which houses the Spanish unit.

In only five years, Spanish program students have increased from 231 to 321. About 1,500 students in total took introductory Spanish courses last year.

Spanish has just surpassed English as the leading native language in the world after Mandarin. Some 400 million people in 22 countries speak Spanish. Locally, Spanish will soon overtake Italian as the third most spoken language in Montreal.

These numbers translate into some exciting career opportunities for graduates, such as translation, social work and teaching, in jobs both here and abroad.

Although improving language proficiency plays a big role in the program, students are also exposed to many aspects of Hispanic history and culture. There are also special events, like a recent appearance by a Peruvian performance artist and a talk by a Chilean poet and human rights activist.

The complement of full-time faculty members has recently increased, and Dr. Vallejo provided an introduction to show the breadth of their expertise.

“José Antonio Gimenez-Mico, like Lady Rojas and Catherine Vallejo, is the holder of a three-year research grant from SSHRC,” she said in an e-mail.

“He is carrying out a comparative study of Canadian and Mexican identity discourse at the beginning of the 20th century. He usually teaches a course on Issues in Hispanic civilization, compulsory for most majors, which includes Web searches in Spanish-American sites and high-tech presentations.

“Bradley Nelson is working on emblematic representations in Golden Age Spain and the constitution of the Spanish national identity in the 16th and 17th centuries. He has succeeded in making the course on the history of Spanish language fun! Since this is also a compulsory course for most majors, I think they are very grateful.

“Hugh Hazelton will be much in demand as an expert in translation. There is great interest on the part of students in this field. He is currently working on a second PhD, in avant-garde Argentinian literature of the early 20th century.

“Luis Ochoa is one of the few people (perhaps the only one in Canada) to have taken an MA degree specializing in the teaching of Spanish to speakers of other languages — and this after graduating with Honours from our own program and taking a ‘regular’ MA at McGill.

“Lady Rojas-Trempe works on contemporary Mexican and Peruvian writers. She personally knows many of them, and we have been able to invite some of them to speak to our students.”

As for Dr. Vallejo herself, she is interested in women’s issues, especially in 19th-century Spanish Caribbean literature and culture, and maintains her work on the history and theory of the Spanish-American short story.

“We are in the process of hiring a seventh person, to work in contemporary Peninsular Spanish literature and culture, who would complement our interests and share our critical perspectives.”

Dr. Vallejo said that the program’s students are regularly accepted into graduate programs in Europe and the U.S., but she would like to see a graduate program in Spanish at Concordia within the next five years.