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by Daniella Ramirez, student writer

Almost everyone who has taken a second-language class has had the experience of being stuck with a textbook and reading the sentences out loud. For many students and teachers, this is a teaching method that works, but it lacks any personal touch of the culture of the language one is learning. HPU Assistant Professor of Spanish Teresa Lane, has been trying to change the way students learn second languages. In 2003 she developed a project to interview women from different countries in South America about their lives and thereby develop more personal and effective Spanish listening material for students.

Lane said that she was looking for authentic material that was not made-up sentences but an actual conversation with someone from a Spanish-speaking country. In 2003, she bought a video camera, packed her bags, and went to Guatemala to study the K’iche/Maya Language. There, she asked 20 women of different economic status and professions the same set of seven questions.

These questions ranged from their family situation, to what they value in life, to their current problems, and what experience has most shaped their lives. Lane said she wanted “to get a range of voices and views.” She interviewed the women in their own homes.

Lane chose women not men, because it is usually the voices of men that are captured in government and media statements as well as in many textbooks. Lane felt that there were few average women voices. Women’s voices would give a different perspective of Latin American culture to students who are not able to travel to all of the places that they read about.

One of the reasons Lane chose Guatemala was because in 1997 she had volunteered to work with a community of civil war refugees, who had lost their lands. Social worker and teacher from the Spanish school, Casa Xelaju, worked alongside volunteers from Europe and the U.S., running a health clinic, a shelter for orphans, an after-school tutoring program, and a stove-building project.
“ I was impressed by them and the strength that they had,” Lane said, explaining that Guatemala has been struggling to rebuild after 40 years of civil war.

Some of the other goals of the Voces project, Lane explained, “is for students to form careful culture generalizations and avoid stereotyping.” Lane also said that she wants students to feel an emotional connection with the women interviewed, and she wants students to travel around the world to learn from other cultures.

Once back in the United States, Lane spent an entire year editing the material, and in fall 2004 she made the entire program available at HPU’s Learning Assistance Center.

In 2005, the National Foreign Language Resource Center, funded by a Title VI grant from the federal government, published the original material on DVD. The material has been very successful and has been sold to different high schools and colleges around the United States. In 2006, Lane wanted the material on the Internet so that it would be free for everyone. She approached San Diego State University’s Language Acquisition Resource Center (LARC), which gave her server space on the Internet and funded her project for four more years.

“ I approached San Diego State University because I wanted to expand the project, and the NFLRC of University of Hawai‘i had only wanted to publish the one DVD set of interviews from Guatemala,” said Lane. “San Diego State University’s LARC has a large video-streaming server that hosts projects similar to my project,” and explained that she “had paid for [her] own travel and development of the project, but could not afford to lease space on a video-streaming server.”

Lane implements her project in her classes by having students answer the same set of questions for themselves which helps them build vocabulary and review grammatical forms. They later compare their answers to those of the women. Lane said that she adjusts the project to all class levels by using different aspects of the questions.

Lane added that the project has taught her that “Women around the world have so much in common. We share the values of peace and family, and fill other people’s lives with love, regardless of education.”

In 2005, Lane went to Morelia, Mexico and interviewed another 20 women. And in 2006, she visited El País Vasco in Spain where she was able to interview another 11 Basque women.

In the summer of 2007, Lane is planning to visit the Dominican Republic to continue her project. Two anthropology professors at San Diego State plan to expand her model to the Middlen East countries by recording Women’s Voices in Farsi, Urdu, and Arabic. Lane is very excited about this because, as she explained: “this is an area of the world from which we need to hear the voice of women.” Lane said she is “thrilled to learn what we might not be seeing from an outside perspective.”

To view the interviews go to: larc.sdsu.edu/voces. To obtain more information about the project, e-mail tlane@hpu.edu


A weaver in Chichicastenango demonstrates a traditional backstrap loom used to make huipiles (blouses).

Christina, a traditional textile vendor, separates her wares.

Entrance of Chichicastenango Church in Guatemala. Everyday flower vendors gather on the church’s steps to sell fresh flowers.

Tess Lane’s host family in Quetzaltenango: Doña Berta Oraxom Lopez (in Voces project) and her two grandchildren, Astrid (also interviewed in the project) and Jesus.

A vegetable market in Totonicapan with vendors selling fresh produce.

All photos courtesy Tess Lane



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