January 11, 2010


Spanish 101 — 2 weeks to learn a language

Winter session course at SUNY Cortland squeezes in as much as it can

LanguageJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland professor Arnold Levine, right, teaches Spanish Wednesday to students taking classes for winter session in the Park Center.

Staff Reporter

Spanish professor Arnold Levine looked through the textbook in front of him Wednesday and made some decisions about what his SUNY Cortland students could handle in a winter session course.
“Normally I would teach you numbers up to 100, but we’re only going to 30, because we’re going to cover how to say times of the day,” Levine said.
He proceeded to review the numbers and then how to say times such as 4:30, for the final 90 minutes of the four-hour class at Park Center. Over and over, he asked his eight students to translate Spanish into English or vice versa.
The students said they would have about two to three hours of homework that night, heading for Friday’s midterm.
Squeezing a semester’s worth of material into two weeks presents challenges for students and faculty alike, especially when the subject is a language.
Winter Session started Jan. 4 at the college and ends Jan. 15. Classes meet for four hours per day every day.
The session gives students a chance to catch up on credits, squeeze in a course that would be difficult to handle during the semester or ease their courseload for the spring semester by having one less course then.
Levine, who has taught at SUNY Cortland since 1988, is teaching Spanish 101. The session is also offering Spanish 102 and 202.
Everything is accelerated and compressed, said Levine, a veteran of more than 40 years teaching Spanish and a winter session veteran.
Students must learn the course’s core material and show the mastery, while the professor must decide what is most important to cover and how hard to push students.
Levine said he began the session with a discussion of what a liberal education entails, since most SUNY Cortland students must take at least one semester of a foreign language, regardless of their major.
He said they would been absorbing their own language since childhood and learning a new one would simply build on that.
Some majors require four semesters. Junior Matt Fontana, a criminology major, said he was required to take four semesters in succession, so he will take Spanish 102 in the spring and the next two courses as a senior.
“It will help, especially if I become a police officer in New York City,” he said, noting that the Latino population in the U.S. has grown in the past two decades.
Senior Haley Casbeer, a biology major, said she wanted to ease her workload in the spring and get a core requirement out of the way now.
Senior Kevin Sweet will be done with his physical education degree when he finishes the course. He has done his student teaching and is ready to move on.
Levine said one challenge is teaching a mixture of students who took Spanish in high school and those who did not. As he asked students for word meanings or how to say times, some were faster because they remembered their high school classes.
Levine sprinkled his lecture with facts about how Spanish evolved, how some words cannot be translated into English, how Spanish culture differs from American, and words that are not pure Spanish but mixed with English into “Spanglish.”
He reviewed which words require female prepositions, such as “noche” for “night,” and which require male. He told students that once a time gets past “30,” as in 5:40, Spaniards tend to say it as a subtraction — “3 minus 20” or “20 before 3” rather than “2:40.”
Levine made one-minute digressions into ways the language used to be written, phrases from Shakespeare, movie lore and other topics to keep the class lively.
He also gave his students a break every hour, where some would have a break after two hours.
The students said his method made the material more interesting.
“He’s very open to exploring our questions,” said junior David Smith, a sport management major.
“I feel like we won’t forget things, the way he teaches, making us answer quickly in class,” Casbeer said.
Fontana said he was struggling with pronunciations, since he had taken four years of Italian in high school.
Smith said the course was a challenge since he avoided studying a language in high school.
“I took the business sequence instead,” he said. “That counted as a language.”


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