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New twist on old language

Barry McNamara
Diana Ruggiero
Diana Ruggiero, one of the newest members of the Monmouth College faculty, shares something in common with one of last weekend’s commencement speakers.

Fran Mirro, a teacher at Hinsdale South High School, received this year’s outstanding pre-college teacher honor during the commencement ceremony. Mirro’s nominator, graduating senior Lauren Zak, was especially impressed by the confidence that Mirro instilled in her while she studied Spanish at the advanced placement level. Part of that success, Zak said, came from the way Mirro immersed her students into Spanish culture.

An assistant professor in MC’s modern foreign languages department, Ruggiero couldn’t agree more with that method, and cultural immersion is one of the goals behind “hybrid Spanish,” a teaching method that will be incorporated this fall in 100-level Spanish classes at Monmouth. Some students will even get an earlier start using hybrid Spanish when they participate in a related SOFIA (Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activity) program in August.

“Often, students arrive at college with no knowledge of how to approach a language,” said Ruggiero, who joined the MC faculty last fall. “As a result, many students do not continue with that language. When confronted with a grammar-intensive introductory language course lacking cultural elements, they lack interest.”

A native of Argentina, Ruggiero is not only fluent in Spanish, but also in the academic principles behind hybrid Spanish. She was recently invited to the 2011 Language Symposium at Northwestern University, where she presented “Hybrid Spanish: Metacognition, College Foreign Language Instruction and Virtual Study Abroad.’”

“In these hybrid Spanish courses at Monmouth, students will take a virtual study-abroad trip involving a preparation, immersion and reflection period,” she said.

Weeks 2-3 provide students “survival strategies” in the foreign country (i.e., cultural knowledge, expressions and body language). Weeks 4-10 teach the language while monitoring the skills provided in weeks 2-3.

“During the last two weeks, students ‘return to the USA’ and reflect on their experience,” Ruggiero explained. “I argue this structure provides a more productive and enriching learning experience.”

In the paper she presented at Northwestern, Ruggiero explored the importance of metacognition for teaching introductory foreign language courses, and John Ivers, a professor at BYU-Idaho and author of “Metacognition and Foreign Language Cultural Instruction,” supports that theory.

“Recognition of cultural irrationality can serve as a powerful curricular addition to the foreign language course – an addition that may potentially stick with the student long after he or she may no longer remember the pluperfect subjunctive,” Ivers wrote.

Ruggiero noted that the assessment criteria for hybrid Spanish follows Albert Ellis’s ABC cultural concept. The affected outcome and criteria used in its assessment will be shown through student surveys and a quantitative illustration comparing two courses at the same level – one employing metacognition skills in its instruction, the other not.

A filmmaker in addition to her teaching duties, Ruggiero directed a seven-minute video on hybrid Spanish, featuring students in her 200- and 300-level courses. It can be viewed at