Teachers become Spanish students

Teachers become students one night a week in an effort to better communicate with the more than 130 students considered English Language Learners.

ELL teacher Patricia Mara--diegue approached school administrators last year with a request to provide teachers a conversational Spanish class.

I knew there was a lot of interest in my school," she said.

Last year, 48 district staff members signed up for the Craig Middle School teacher's program. Teachers weren't the only ones interested in the class. Custodians and bus drivers also signed up.

Not all who signed up were able to make it because of scheduling conflicts.

Former CMS Principal Steve Wiersma took the introductory course and would use it during parent meetings.

"Families loved it because he was trying to communicate with them," Maradiegue said.

The class is offered at two levels but mostly consists of vocabulary, common phrases and pronunciation.

They're not meant to make participants fluent.

"This way teachers know what the inappropriate words are in Spanish," Maradiegue laughed. "This is very important."

Pronunciation is important, she said. Papa in Spanish is potato. Papá is father. There are other misconceptions. Adios doesn't actually mean goodbye, it means that person won't be seen for a long time.

"There's more to learn than just the language," she said.

She also teaches the culture.

Seeing teachers struggling to communicate gives ELL students confidence in their own attempts, said Christine Villard, director of student services.

"We're not doing perfect conjugation," Maradiegue said. "We're sending the message, and this way we communicate. They practice, and the kids are impressed."

Even learning basic skills can be difficult. Depending on where a student is from, a commonly used word could be difficult.

"When I first got here I thought 'Wow, they're speaking Spanish, but I don't understand them,'" Maradiegue said.

She is a Peruvian native.

The course also helps teachers communicate with parents. There might be only one or two translators available during parent/teacher conferences, for example. Having a knowledge of the language -- however slight -- helps teachers communicate with parents.

"This way it's easier and friendlier," Maradiegue said. "It's really nice when someone speaks your language."

Maradiegue has been in the United States for five years and has worked in Moffat County for three. She studied English at a Catholic university and became certified as an interpreter. Still, she had difficulties when she first came to the United States. She learned the British version of English and still had some adjustments to make.

The classes are offered once a week -- on Tuesdays for the first level and on Thursdays for the second level.

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