Are you a language teacher considering a travel program with your students to a Spanish-speaking country? While there are multiple factors involved in the decision to travel with your students, one of the greatest benefits is the opportunity to immerse them in a local culture with people who speak the language they’re learning.
I’ve taken my classes on trips to three Spanish-speaking countries, including to Costa Rica with Rustic Pathways. Continue reading to learn why you should travel with your students to a country where your target language is spoken.
1. Practice with Native Speakers
As a language teacher, you’re aware of the intrinsic irony of typical language classes. The teacher introduces a grammatical concept to the class, and then the students practice speaking with each other.
While it is not entirely uncommon to have one or two students in the class who speak Spanish at home, the majority of your students are non-native speakers of the target language. As they practice with each other, they receive feedback from other non-native speakers.
Imagine taking this class abroad so they can engage in projects alongside community members with whom they will communicate entirely in Spanish. Their language skills will improve exponentially because they’ll receive real-time feedback from a native speaker.
2. Expand Your Language Focus
Either intentionally or unintentionally, your classroom instruction likely revolves around the type of that language spoken in one particular country. For example, many schools in California focus on the nuances of Mexican Spanish because of the significant Mexican population in California. Similarly, it’s possible that a school teaching Spanish in Europe might choose to focus on the Spanish spoken in Spain.
In both instances, traveling intentionally with your students to a country not as heavily represented in your curriculum will help broaden their understanding of the language. After all, wouldn’t you like to know where to purchase aguacate versus palta, or when to tell your friends you think they’re super padre or bacán? The list of these vocabulary differences between countries is endless.
3. Provide Unscripted Learning Opportunities
As a language teacher, you probably arrange field trips to museum exhibits showcasing Spanish-speaking artists, or perhaps you’ve set up cooking lessons featuring Spanish or Latin American cuisine. While these all help expose your students to Spanish-speaking values and cultural practices, they can lack authenticity because they tend to be planned in advance.
Over the course of a typical day traveling with your students in a Spanish-speaking environment, they’ll watch cultural practices surrounding greetings, food, transportation, and art unfolds naturally around them. Bonus points if your trip coincides with a cultural festival, celebration, or someone’s birthday.
4. Promote Diversity Among Your Students
Teaching Spanish is particularly rewarding because it’s spoken in more than 20 countries. Unlike languages that are spoken in only one country, Spanish provides the opportunity for students to learn about diversity in the Spanish-speaking world.
If diversity is one of your school’s core values, your students will benefit from an experience in a location where the culture differs from the Spanish-speaking culture represented by your school’s student body. Traveling with your students to a Spanish-speaking country will help to debunk the idea that one example of Spanish-speaking culture, like food or attire, applies to all Spanish-speaking countries.
5. Hone Your Spanish Skills
When was the last time you spent a significant amount of time in a location where the language you teach is spoken? If you teach a language that isn’t your first, it’s important for you to continue developing those skills.
There will be myriad opportunities for you to brush up on your speaking skills and notice the speaking patterns of those around you. If you’re a non-native speaker of the language you teach, an unexpected positive outcome would be that your students get to see through your efforts that learning languages is rewarding and can be a lifelong passion.
As language teachers, we understand that learning a language is not the end goal. Language is a tool that creates bridges between cultures. Your decision to travel abroad with your students to participate in language learning and service will help create a foundation for their understanding of the roles they’ll play in the future as global citizens.
Interested in Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin, and English language immersion programs with Rustic Pathways Group Travel.
Marisa served as Program Leader and Flight Leader for Rustic Pathways and always looks back fondly on Rustic's first summer in the Dominican Republic in 2012. Marisa shared her love for language and community service with students while working alongside them in the bateyes. Marisa is a former Spanish teacher who works as a yoga instructor and blogger in San Francisco.