While learning a new language may seem strenuous for some, Godwin Spanish teacher Marina Andueza has ensured exposure to the Spanish culture by introducing special guests into her classes.
Andueza has been a teacher at Godwin for 20 years, educating juniors and seniors taking AP Spanish and Honors Spanish 4 classes.
In 2010, Andueza featured a guest speaker and an old friend, Eloy Carrero, in her class. It was this visit that galvanized Andueza to present guest speakers more often during her teaching years.
“My students and I had such an enriching experience listening to him playing ‘El cuatro’ and singing Venezuelan songs and talking about his experience as a musician that since then, I have had at least one guest speaker visiting my Spanish classes every year,” said Andueza.
The virtual format of this year has only enhanced Andueza’s guest speaker experiences, as she is now able to get in touch with speakers from all around the world, rather than strictly those from Richmond.
“This year has been exceptional because virtual learning and Microsoft Teams have allowed me to invite people who are living in different parts of [the] USA and in Hispano-American countries. [It] has allowed me to have four guest speakers so far. I am planning for at least two more for this academic year,” said Andueza.
These guests typically consist of a wide variety of individuals, ranging from those associated with music and dance to those who specialize in marketing, nonprofit organizations, engineering, and more. There have been friends of Andueza featured, as well as former native Spanish-speaking students and nonnative students who have become fluent with their second language welcomed into these class discussions.
Previous students have been invited as well. Godwin alumnus Adam Collins, one of Andueza’s prior Spanish students, contacted her last November to inform her of his YouTube channel created about Argentinian culture. Andueza invited him to share his channel with her class.
The class discussions with these guests can range from topic to topic depending on who the speaker is. The guests usually stay for 40 to 50 minutes in each class, discussing themes relevant to their professional fields.
“We first had the visit of my son, José Guillermo Andueza, former Godwin Eagle, who came to talk to my students about the importance of knowing how to speak Spanish fluently and the impact it has had in his professional life. He is a federal government employee who has traveled to several Spanish speaking countries on a yearly basis. When he comes to tell my students how a second language has opened new horizons for him, he is inspiring them to go further with their Spanish learning,” said Andueza.
Numerous guests have spoken in her classes over the years, each discussing distinctive topics that may resonate with certain students. For example, Chelo Villasmil and Mimi Matar, two friends from Andueza’s college years, discussed their non-profit organization “Amigas por Venezuela” in Andueza’s class.
“[They] told their story of how they are helping the people of my country, who are currently living very hard political, social, and economic times. Their organization provides [for] people in need. Their story was really touching and so well received with my students who do community services,” said Andueza.
Local speakers have been invited into Andueza’s class, including the owner of the Richmond restaurant Maya Mexican Grill, Maria Oseguera, who is also a parent of one of Andueza’s former students, Michael Oseguera. Maria Oseguera was able to discuss her expertise as a chef with the class in 2014.
In 2015, Andueza’s neighbor, Rick Solana, a fluent Spanish speaker shared with Andueza’s class the story of his self-built airplane, recounting his ability to fly with his family around the United States.
“This was really a hit for students planning to be in the engineering field,” said Andueza.
This year Marielle Guillén, a friend of Andueza, was able to virtually visit her classes to wrap up a class unit called “El Camino de Santiago” by discussing her own experience with the Camino, a large network of pilgrim routes across Europe that leads to a cathedral in Spain.
Guillén has taken this trip six times, gaining the ability to establish a better understanding of the unit for students based on her exposure to nature and encounters with individuals from around the world during her pilgrimages.
While Andueza treasures each guest’s visit, Itzel Hamill, her piano duo partner, is one she cherishes.
“[She] came to talk to my students about her life as the wife of a diplomat and her experiences traveling and living in several different countries in Europe and Latino-America. Her visit in the year 2018 is so memorable to me personally because it took place in the year I was pursuing the National Board Certification, and it was videotaped with the intention to be a part of a required submission for Portfolio No. 3 called ‘Teaching and Learning Environment’. I am very proud to say I received a score of 4 in this portfolio, 4.25 being the highest possible. I attribute it in part thanks to having included the visit of guest speakers,” said Andueza.
Andueza takes a great amount of preparation to ensure these visits go smoothly. This year, Andueza sets up meetings with each guest speaker the day before their visit in order to confirm the event will go off without a hitch.
On the day of the visit, students are encouraged to turn their cameras on to make sure the guests are comfortable. There is a brief period of introductions, followed by an opportunity for students’ questions to be answered by the guest speaker.
“We are able to [have] at least 16 students ask a question to the guest speaker,” said Andueza.
Everyone in the class fills out a document on Schoology with their own notes as the speaker answers questions in Spanish.
“Students are practicing their listening skill comprehension. As a follow up to the visit, students have an assignment to write a thank you letter to the speaker to let him/her know the impact their visit had on them. When students write these letters, they are practicing for a free response section of the AP Spanish Exam called ‘Correo electrónico’. I choose some of these letters and send them to our guest speaker to thank him/her for their precious time. Usually the letters are so beautiful that they are a wonderful token of appreciation for their visit,” said Andueza.
While these visits not only prepare students for their AP exams, they are also able to converse with fluent Spanish speakers, a rare opportunity for some.
“What I hope to achieve with each visit of a guest speaker is [for] my students to get acquainted in real time a real life experience of the voices of people from Spanish speaking countries, or people that are so involved with our Spanish culture in one way or another, so students experience their learning of Spanish at a higher level. Throughout all the years I have brought guest speakers to my Spanish classes, I can joyfully say that the reaction of the majority of my students has been so positive. During the actual visit they really show a high interest which makes me so proud of them,” said Andueza.
The feedback from this learning experience has remained positive for years according to Andueza, who assigns a reflection for her students to complete after each guest encounter.
“Reading them brings me so much joy. At the end of each academic year, I ask my students to write another reflection of the learning they have experienced in my class and in most of their reflections, I even dare to say that in 95 percent of the cases, they write about the guest speaker as one of the highlights of the year in their Spanish class,” said Andueza.
Learning a foreign language is one matter, but fully immersing oneself in the culture of it is another. This immersion is a subject that resonates with Andueza, who believes the best way for students to gain comprehension of the Spanish language is to learn about the people within those countries as well as their cultures.
“As a teacher of my native language, I am an advocate of teaching the diversity of the culture of the Spanish speaking countries. The guest speakers bring the teaching of the culture of Spanish speaking countries to another level. When Venezuelan musician Eloy Carrero comes to my classes and plays our national instrument the cuatro live, my students experience something different than if you play a video of someone playing the cuatro,” said Andueza.
The practice of inviting guest speakers and incorporating their life experiences into lessons for students is something Andueza recommends to her fellow teachers.
“I recommend to teachers, who have not had the experience yet, to start thinking about including it in their curriculum. Students love to have guest speakers, it is a breakthrough of the daily routine that they would love and [it] will bring them so much spark to that particular day and to their class in general,” said Andueza.
The conversations students have with Andueza’s special guests in her Spanish classes is a tradition that will last for years. The educating and eye opening effect it produces for her students is the most important factor for Andueza.
“The guest speakers have definitely enriched the learning experiences of my dear students and my teaching,” said Andueza.