by Véronique Jouhaud
The Centre for Continuing Education's first Spanish session has surpassed everyone's expectations. "We never expected to have more than 200 students," said academic coordinator Charles Brown. "For the first session, it's very good."
A total of 204 students registered this fall in one of three levels (beginner, elementary and intermediate) of the Spanish language offered by the not-for-academic-credit Language Institute.
"The most exciting thing for us was that students came from both founding communities," said Maureen Habib, who is Administrator of the Language Institute. "It's a real outreach program. What helped us a lot is the very friendly profile the University has to both the anglophone and francophone communities."
She explained that the other language programs taught at the Institute, English and French, attract a different clientele. Francophones and new Canadians take English, and anglophones and new Canadians take French.
"French and English are learned to survive in the city," said Brown, who is ESL (English as a second language) Coordinator, "but students take Spanish because they want to. They take it for travel, business, or because of a love relationship."
The Language Institute added Spanish to the curriculum after watching it bloom in the United States. The NAFTA agreement also influenced the Institute, as the number of Quebecers vacationing in Spanish-speaking countries increased.
Lucie Robert, a public relations consultant, decided to learn Spanish out of personal interest, and she appreciates the stress-free environment of Continuing Education.
"It's refreshing to have a language course," Robert said. "For working people like us, it's good to know you can easily keep up with a class." An enthusiastic beginner, she has already signed up for the next session.
The Language Institute tried a more user-friendly registration process with Spanish courses that enables students to register by fax. The system worked well, and will be applied to the English program, starting this coming January. "This kind of thing is becoming increasingly important at a time when people are feeling very rushed," Habib said.
The Spanish teachers apply a methodology developed by Brown and Spanish consultant and teacher Estrella Rodriguez. It is based on the philosophy of the Language Institute, a communication-based rather than a grammar-based approach to language learning.
"What we do is very different from the academic sector," Habib said. "Our program is very much hands-on, very practical."
As with other programs offered by the Language Institute, teachers are on probation for three terms, and during their probation, are videotaped once a term in their classrooms. The videotape is used to evaluate performance in class, improve teaching and ensure that the teachers respect the methodology.
Brown retrains teachers to think communication rather than grammar. "The teacher is like a moderator, a guide who presents the activities," Rodriguez explained. "The students do much of the work, and in that sense, our program is unique. We wanted to make sure our students had a lot of practice."
In the classroom, students watch videotapes, listen to audiotapes and gather in small groups to carry out activities. They receive a grade for the course (though no academic credit), and get a certificate of proficiency if they complete advanced-level Spanish.
The Language Institute hopes to open the first advanced section in Spanish this winter. Courses last 10 weeks (four hours a week) and are offered in the fall, winter and spring. For more information, call the Language Institute at 848-3609.