Latino LA: Spanish 4 Engages in Cultural Immersion Project

Learning a foreign language can be a challenging process, but understanding the culture behind the communication can offset some of the difficulty. Windward World Language teacher Lara Tucker is helping her students do just that by leading the class on an exploration of Latino culture in Los Angeles through an immersive study of art, cuisine, and sports.

Students were asked to choose a historical artifact, food dish, or influential individual, and then research the subject’s cultural history and significance to the Latino community. “I had them work in small groups and research Latino cultures based on their interests—food, music, visual arts, and sports—so that they could also expand their vocabulary in a way that seemed very real and applicable to their lives,” she said.
To challenge the student’s listening and speaking skills, guest speakers were invited to class for Spanish-only presentations about their personal and professional histories relating to each research topic. Hernan Fernando, a former dishwasher turned restaurant owner and Angie Oropeza, a librarian and Chicano art enthusiast at Wildwood School, both volunteered their time to discuss their experiences. Windward’s own Gabe Baez and Vanessa Vazquez also contributed their unique histories, giving students new perspectives on familiar faces from around campus.
Following their presentations, the speakers broke off into groups with students to engage in conversational-level Spanish. “In this activity, I wanted them to use the vocabulary and skills they had been practicing to communicate in the ‘real world,’” Lara said. “For some of the students, this was the first time they had maintained an extended conversation in Spanish.”
The focused communication exercises engaged the class on multiple levels, but also had an unintended—yet positive—effect, which Lara took note of. “One of the fantastic takeaways I hadn’t necessarily anticipated was the interpersonal element—how much the students enjoyed getting to know members of the Windward community and the community at large and learning about their lives and interests,” Lara said. “I wanted to see students improving their Spanish while learning more about Latino culture in Los Angeles. This relationship building is one of the main reasons that we learn and study second languages.”
Windward School is a 7-12, co-educational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California.