Beautiful Spanish: Unexpected benefit of study abroad

Feb 21, 2013

Sonia Nazario abroad at a bullfightSpanish majors at Heidelberg are required to spend a semester abroad, fully immersed in a Spanish-speaking culture. Sonia Nazario was a bit apprehensive when she headed to Seville, Spain, at the beginning of the fall semester. Now back in the states, her fluency has improved immeasurably. In-class reading is easier and homework gets done more quickly.

There was one additional – and very unexpected -- benefit. Sonia can now converse with ease with her mamita – her beloved great-grandmother who speaks only Spanish. 

“I could talk to her before, but only in short phrases,” says the junior from Columbus Grove, Ohio. “For so long, she would make meals, serve the family and then eat away from the table. When I explained that I can speak Spanish now, I insisted she sit at the table with all of us.”

During one phone call with her great-grandmother, Sonia heard words that brought tears to her eyes. “Tu espanol es muy linda,” her great-grandmother told her. Translation: “Your Spanish is very beautiful.”

Sonia and grandmotherThat single exchange made Sonia’s study-abroad experience worthwhile.

Her professor, Dr. Cynthia Lepeley, has noticed Sonia’s beautiful Spanish as well. “Her fluency is awesome. Now, she can say just about anything she wants to without having to think about the nuts and bolts,” said Lepeley, following their 90-minute conversation entirely in Spanish. “It just flows.”

For four months, Sonia lived in Seville with a host family and took classes at the Center for Cross-Cultural Study. Despite a bit of culture shock in the first few weeks, “living the language” forced her to learn it. “I had no choice, really,” she says. “Things I used to struggle with, like which tense to use, now come much more naturally.”

“Once I started easing into it, learning the ropes, I didn’t want to leave.”

Sonia said she went to Seville “with no confidence in my Spanish at all.” All that had changed just a few short months later. Now, she’s looking ahead to a career as a Spanish teacher, possibly at the college level. Graduate school in her native Puerto Rico and a summer program in Argentina also are on her radar. “I’d love to teach English as a Second Language or work with a TESOL program,” she said.

Her study-abroad journey was wonderfully personal – more personal than most students. Although her mother is fluent – the two even text back and forth in Spanish – she has become the resident translator in her family. Younger siblings and cousins are curious and ask her questions.

Lepeley is so pleased that her student had such a positive experience. “I hope this will inspire others,” she said. “A family connection with the language is priceless.”