Spanish Special: World Languages

Several degrees and certificates, like the AAOT and the Oregon Transfer Module, require second language classes. Currently, UCC offers one world language: Spanish, taught by Associate Professor Nicholas Tratz.

Although students at time struggle with the requirement, learning a second language can increase one’s world perspective and strengthen neural pathways. Learning a second language can make the hippocampus grow as well as the cerebral cortex, according to research done by Johan Mårtensson, a researcher in psychology at Lund University, Sweden.  Other research has shown that Alzheimer’s disease occurs later in populations who are bilingual or multilingual.

Tratz utilizes a more integrative approach to teaching Spanish rather than the typical language learning. Students engage in interactive class exercises and stories, as well as practice their skills in small class activities. Tratz uses teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling or T.P.R.S.

“I encourage all of my students to continue studying beyond the required courses because when they do, they gain much more confidence and accuracy when speaking and writing and a far greater understanding of world cultures.” Tratz said.

One of the benefits of this approach is that students focus on language structure and practice versus language learning out of a book. Currently, Tratz is looking to revitalize his curriculum for the upcoming school year with an emphasis on in-class speaking activities.

“Taking their language studies to the next level helps students to experience new and exciting ways to communicate, break down social and cultural barriers, empathize with others’ perspectives on the world, and form lasting and meaningful connections with people of diverse backgrounds.” Tratz said. “I believe these are critical abilities for global-minded citizens and essential for all of our students as they travel or study and especially as they enter any field in our increasingly service-oriented marketplace.”

In the past UCC offered French, Spanish and German courses. One of the things Tratz misses about having more world languages at UCC is the opportunity to bounce ideas off of other language teachers.

“Having that outside perspective really helped whether it be about learning styles, different topic approaches, or general advice,” Tratz said. Tratz feels having another perspective was really constructive in his curriculum planning. Now, that input is taken from conferences and other online sources.

At the beginning of his career at UCC seven years ago, Tratz taught an estimated 120 beginning Spanish students. This year, he estimated having 60 with an average class size of 15 to 20 students.

UCC’s French program is deeply missed by many students. The French classes taught until fall term in  2015 by Professor Honora Ni Aodagain were regarded by many of them as a highlight to their UCC experience. “The French program offered me the opportunity of a lifetime when I spent two weeks in Paris, France,” Charles Crosier, paralegal studies, said.

Students who wanted to continue past the 100-level may have asked themselves why the classes were cut in the first place. Tratz said the decision was made based on total enrollment and French classes were cut because the Spanish program had more students.

For UCC students who are eager to learn a second language, but not Spanish, switching languages after transferring can be challenging. Students are told by advisers that they should complete the second year of Spanish before applying to a university to fulfill transfer requirements and then switch to their desired language once admitted. Some universities offer exemption from this requirement, but only under special circumstances.

“I only needed the first two terms of Spanish for my degree, but I kept moving forward because I liked the language. I had spent two years on a mission in Brazil, so Spanish came naturally to me. But if there was any another language offered, I’d take it,” Austin Edwards, AAOT student, said.

With UCC’s student enrollment on the decline, Tratz believes that more students are what is needed first before UCC can offer a variety of world language classes. In addition to the 100-level and 200-level courses which UCC offers, Professor Tratz would love the opportunity to offer more higher-level Spanish classes like conversational Spanish, which hasn’t been offered in seven years and Hispanic Studies. However, currently the school budget only allows for the department to operate outside the bare minimum, other languages on the back burner.

Although many four-year universities offer study abroad opportunities, UCC is unable to offer such experiences because of the sheer amount of work those programs require, Tratz said. UCC would need to expand the World Language Department’s staff as well as their budget so that a new position could be completely devoted to booking tickets, communicating with institutions throughout the world and aiding students with the transfer out of America, Tratz said.

Tratz has helped a few viticulture students travel abroad to Roseburg’s sister city in Spain, Aranda De Duero. But, in order to consistently offer study abroad opportunities to UCC students, a study abroad specialist would need to be added.