Q & A with Spanish Instructor Juan Miranda
Learning a language right now might be the ultimate act of anticipation. Our worlds have contracted as we navigate stay-at-home orders and social distancing, but learning a language, about the culture and history of other countries, can expand our view. We will travel and connect with people directly again. Until then, vamos a aprender español! In this new environment, full of Zoom calls and face masks, we asked instructor Juan Miranda about his 35 years of teaching Spanish with Continuing Education.
You’ve been teaching with Continuing Ed since 1985. What changes have you seen over that period of time in the students who come to learn and in your own teaching?
The population of my class is so different. When I was teaching back in 1985, just one class, about 80% of the students were retired. But now it's changed. I have students from 14 years old all the way to 84 years old. And the students are from different backgrounds and different industries. Spanish has become a language for business. I also have a lot of au pairs from different countries like Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, and France.
The students today want to learn more. They want to know the grammar and how the conjugation works, as well as speaking, writing, and reading. It's like taking Spanish 101 in college but in Continuing Education! This class is for fun and enjoyment but at the same time you're really learning the language.
What motivates you to continue teaching?
Teaching is one of the things that I'm passionate about, that I enjoy. The United States has the second highest number of Spanish speakers in the world; the first is Mexico. It's good for the community, for the people. I enjoy participating in the learning process of someone who wants to learn the language.
One of my students worked in social services and wanted to help Spanish-speaking people access services. I talked to a policeman who said he had to give a ticket to someone who only spoke Spanish but he couldn't explain why he got the ticket. People who work in hospitals want to communicate with their patients. I had a high school teacher with Spanish-speaking students in his class. He told me, “I have students I cannot communicate with. I'm teaching math but they cannot understand me. I want to learn this language.”
This is the kind of thing that motivates me. I want to continue helping the community. It gives me even more motivation.
What are some memorable moments that stand out from those years of teaching?
I had a student who was 80 years old and had never studied Spanish before. It was her first time taking a language! I practiced with her and I gave her the tools and after two or three weeks she begins speaking to me in Spanish, “¿Cómo estás usted?” Isn't that fun! It's never too late to learn anything!
What led you to this work? Were there any people or experiences specifically that influenced you to move in this direction?
When I was going to university, I had two friends who became teachers. They both asked me, “Juan, can you come to my class as a guest speaker?” I went to a high school and spoke to the students about where I'm from in Peru, who I am, and the cultures in my background. I speak four languages and these kids, 16 and 17 years old, were really interested. I enjoyed myself.
I teach because I enjoy it. Every class is different. I teach different things, tell different stories. We also share our experience travelling. We laugh!
Generally, what is the value in studying Spanish?
When I teach Spanish, I don't only teach the grammar, conjugations, writing, and speaking. I also teach history, culture, geography, and customs in the Spanish-speaking countries. The students enjoy that part of it. Learning different cultures makes them savvy and more professional. When they talk to someone from another culture, they can communicate better.
People become more marketable to employers and compete effectively in the global economy. Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world, based on numbers of native speakers. I had ten flight attendants from Alaska Airlines take my classes after Alaska began flying to Mexico in 1988. They continued taking classes together and took level 1, 2, and 3. They told me, “Now I can talk to the people on the flights, and I get a 10% increase in my salary!”
Spanish will also increase your understanding of English; Spanish and English share Indo-European roots and Latin word origins. Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn because of its similarities to the English vocabulary. When written, it's almost completely phonetic and often looks exactly as it should be pronounced. Acquiring Spanish as a second language actually makes acquiring another foreign language easier.
How are you, as a teacher, approaching the dramatic changes that have taken place over the last few months?
I didn't have time to anticipate! All of a sudden, our winter class just stopped. Now it's my first time teaching online with Zoom and Canvas. But alright, let's do it! I was very green. Now I feel comfortable.
How are you spending this stay-at-home time? What are you doing to keep your spirits up?
I'm doing a lot of reading, doing a lot of video calls with family in Hong Kong, Taipei, Rome, and Peru. When you feel locked down in your house, you can watch Spanish TV, telenovellas, or you can talk to your teacher online!