teaching Spanish

Our Story: Improving the Way Adults Learn to Speak Spanish

Six weeks before COVID hit, I wrote out the vision for Bridge the Gap. I created the design for a program that I felt best fit the learning needs of busy adults who wanted to learn Spanish. I was inspired to do this by an almost innate realization that putting together a language program was what my purpose on this Earth was. You see, I had been teaching English and Spanish on the side (probably 1-2 hours per week) for years, and I found true joy in doing so. But, I knew this was not enough. I hated filling unfulfilled for the greater portion of my week and giving the leftover bits and pieces to the very thing that I was passionate about. Ultimately, I knew I had to dedicate my life’s work to ensuring that other people had an opportunity to learn another language. And, I just didn’t want them to have the opportunity to learn; I wanted them to feel the joy of learning and communicating with others in that language. 

I had quite the experience learning Spanish, my second language. Right out of college, I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend nine months at an immersive school called Roca Blanca Spanish School in Oaxaca, Mexico. As you might expect, during those nine months at the school, I spent time in a culture that was very different from my own. I had the opportunity to teach my native language English to a group of college-aged Spanish-speaking students. I lived with a host family in Cacalote, the nearby pueblo. I took bucket showers, cooked tortillas on a clay stove outside in the heat, had a tarantula killed in my room! It was truly an all-immersive experience! On top of all of that, this experience forced me to speak Spanish; I couldn’t go a day without saying something in Spanish.

A few years after moving back to the States, I started to recognize that many of my peers had the very same passion and pull towards Spanish and Latin American culture as I had. The only difference is that they had never gotten to have the experience that I had because…well, life. As we all know too well, life tends to get in the way of us pursuing the things that interest us most. Those things just tend to fall by the wayside while the “more important things” like work, kids, family, etc. monopolize our attention. Bridge the Gap was designed to give busy adults with the pull towards Spanish and Latin American culture the tools necessary to make learning to speak the language and culture a priority. Making it a priority doesn’t necessarily mean dedicating 10+ hours a week to homework assignments or neglecting other important things in life. Instead, it simply means smartly and effectively integrating the learning and practice into life, ensuring that it doesn’t fall by the wayside. But, I realized that making learning Spanish a priority wasn’t the only component essential to helping adults learn to speak Spanish. I knew that I also had to create the experience and opportunities to speak for my future students. After all, that is what set my overall Spanish education apart from my peers.

To add this element of learning to the Bridge the Gap language learning model, I knew what I had to do. I took a page from my previous days of developing an ESL program for a local nonprofit Mission Southside. During my time at Mission Southside, I worked with others to develop an ESL program that stood out because of it’s one-on-one nature. As part of the program, we assigned each student to their own language partner, typically a local volunteer in the program. This language partner would help the student through the class, almost as their personal homework buddy. They would do the English exercises together, stumble through conversations together, and sometimes even do fun things outside of the classroom together. The relationships that were built within that program were game changers for each student.

At the start of Bridge the Gap, I was able to recruit two language partners (at Bridge the Gap, we call them conversation teachers) to help me add this unique aspect to the program. Yosy was from Cuba and Gabriel was from Mexico, and to be honest, I owe a lot of what the program is today to them. They truly made Bridge the Gap an experience for each of their students. They provided a safe space for their student to speaking Spanish in each of their one-on-one classes with them. Additionally, they gave their students a chance to learn about Latin American culture from first-hand experience!

So these two things–ensuring that the program was created for a busy adult and ensuring that there was a factor of immersion and opportunities to speak in the program–are what I kept in mind as I created the vision for Bridge the Gap. After creating the vision, I had to find people who wanted to try the program. Thankfully, I was able to recruit ten people through simple posts on my personal Facebook. The first couple of months were truly better than I could have imagined. The feedback that I received from the beta group was so helpful, and I used it to tweak the program. 

Each month from then until now has been nothing short of a refining process for Bridge the Gap. We are working our way towards being the go-to Spanish program for adults who are serious about making their desire to learn to speak the language a priority. Although this sounds like a long shot, I think that ultimately the results will speak for themselves. And, if there is anything that two years of building this program has taught me, it is that making Spanish a priority and having opportunities to speak definitely produce results.

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