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
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
To view the interviews go to: larc.sdsu.edu/voces. To obtain more information
about the project, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org