Moving from “I Want to Speak Spanish” to “I Want to Learn to Speak Spanish”

CATEGORIES: February 2016

Interview with Susan Congdon by Jennifer Musgrove. Above: Susana receives a surprise birthday song while attending a Spanish 101 class dinner at El Azteca.

Susan Congdon, “Susana” in the Spanish classroom, is a first year non-traditional language learner currently enrolled in Elementary Spanish II (Spanish 102). We asked Susan to share her perspective regarding the process of beginning a language learning experience and her plans this summer to live and study abroad in Valencia, Spain.

Q: As a non-traditional student, recently retired from Parks Library, how did you decide that learning Spanish in a formal classroom environment was the best route for you as a learner?

A: I retired recently from many years at the ISU Library.  I worked as long as I did for financial reasons, because I liked it, and because I did not have a clear idea of how I would do without that structured time and purpose.  There were many things I thought I would like to do, and speaking Spanish was one of them.  I retired in July 2014 and that first August was just too soon to commit to another schedule.  But by the end of a year, rested and restless, I had moved from “want to speak Spanish” to “want to learn to speak Spanish”. Big difference!  So I jumped in with growing enthusiasm as a non-degree student with no specific goal beyond staying in the moment and studying as best I could.  It took a little while to set a pattern for study and get used to online homework.

Q: As a Spanish language learner, what approach to learning do you find most helpful inside and outside the classroom?

A: I find that the Language Studies Resource Center (LSRC), located on the 3rd floor of Pearson, is the best place to focus and work on homework outside of class. I spend time every day reviewing the lessons and writing out vocabulary, as suggested by my professor, to imprint it in my brain. Through this process, I’ve begun to feel at ease and realize that it’s possible to acquire another language.  I love learning new words in Spanish for the day-to-day activities in my life.  I also discovered that many of my favorite TV series DVD’s contain both Spanish dubbing and Spanish subtitles. What fun! Ames Public Library also has a good collection of Spanish language movies available.  However, listening comprehension of the language is sometimes tricky.
In the classroom alongside my peers, I am older than the parents of my classmates. However, I find that I feel quite comfortable and accepted in class. In fact, getting to know these “chicos” has been an unexpected bonus as I have picked up good study habits and energy from them.

Susana, along with her Spanish 101 classmates, during an evening at El Azteca with their instructor, Jennifer Musgrove. Students enjoyed the challenge of ordering their meals and conversing around the table together in Spanish.


Q: It’s fantastic that you plan to study abroad this summer through the ISU on the Mediterranean-Summer in Valencia 2016 program. What do you hope to experience and learn while on this cultural and language immersion adventure?

A: Having ample time to immerse myself in my one class has been wonderful.  When I heard about the 6-week study abroad in Valencia, it dawned on me that I could do that too. Signing up for Spanish 101/102 was a leap of faith.  Why not leap again?
I never really imagined for myself that I would have the opportunity to immerse myself in another language and culture.  My hope for the immersion experience is that it helps me hear what I’ve been studying, building my listening comprehension skills. To study, with a safety net of the ISU group, to make friends from ISU and Valencia, to live with a Spanish speaking family in a daily rhythm different from my own, to explore the city and countryside seems too good to be true.  I’m pretty excited, and it is going to happen!