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Bilingual Learning at Hampshire

Friday, February 5, 2010

In the course I took during Jan term 2010—Social Movements 100 Years after the Mexican Revolution (or Movimientos Sociales)—we crossed the language barrier and explored the relationship between academic study of social movements and active participation in those movements. The class was among the first in Hampshire's experiment in bilingual education: a Mellon language grant awarded to the College has allowed incorporation of foreign language materials into non-language courses. I deeply appreciated this opportunity to practice Spanish, and to use my knowledge of language to expand my academic horizons beyond the English-speaking world.

To achieve a combination of theoretical expertise and firsthand experience in social movements, Professor Margaret Cerullo invited Elisa Benavides, a linguistic anthropologist with many years of activism in social movements in Mexico, and Professor Tom Hansen of the Mexico Solidarity Network to join her in teaching the course.

Through lectures, readings, films, essays, discussions, and coffee breaks, we learned how social movement theory and history affected the social movements in which the professors were involved: Zapatismo, student strikes, ex-braceros, and many others—and movements we were involved or interested in ourselves: Gay Pride, Mad Pride, and Pro-Choice, to name a few. Many of us left with a new or renewed passion for social activism, and several of us are making plans to work with activist groups in Mexico on the Mexico Solidarity Network's study abroad program. Hampshire program with Mexico Solidarity Network

Since Movimientos Sociales was bilingual, thanks to the Mellon language grant for help acquiring resources, we had freedom to explore firsthand accounts without the inconvenience of translation. Lectures, films, and readings were often in Spanish, and we had the option of conducting discussions and writing essays in Spanish. Besides giving us the opportunity to practice using Spanish and to learn about social movements in their native language, this open-ended bilingualism allowed for a wide range of capabilities in the language, from those of us with rusty Spanish, to Benavides, who did not speak English.

During spring semester 2010, I am enrolled in another bilingual course, which I expect will go just as well as the first. I am taking Border Matters: Mexico and the United States with Professor Flavio Risech-Ozeguera. Also supported by the Mellon language grant, this course is about Mexican-American border policy and its results, with discussions and some readings available in Spanish. The idea is the same as it was in Movimientos Sociales: when we have the ability to learn from others in their native language, we should make an effort to do so, because nuances are lost in even the best translations.


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