Posted by: Nick Voss | November 3, 2013

El Día de los Muertos: Language and Culture in Spanish Class

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SPANISH CLASS– While Conserve School’s Art, Science, Math, History and English classes are a busy buzz each week, there’s still a class we haven’t looked at yet this semester: Spanish. This week was a great week to do so, because of a wide range of topics that were covered. There was of course the basics of vocabulary and grammar, but there were also discussions on current natural resource and cultural topics, such as the recent Latin American holiday of El Día de los Muertos (The day of the dead) that started November 1st.

Starting with the basics, Spanish two dug into vocabulary (vocabulario) and reflexive verbs earlier this week. A reflexive verb occurs when the subject is connected to the verb, or when you’d say “myself” or “yourself” in your sentence. For example, to say “I call myself…” would take the plain or infinitive verb for “to call” (llamar), and make it into a reflexive by adding se. The verb then becomes llamarse, or in a context of “I call myself…”, the se becomes me to compose the phrase Me llamo…”. To say “you call yourself” would then be “te llamas”. The Spanish two class then applies this concept to all sorts of verbs, such as to brush one’s hair, to wash one’s self, or to teach one’s self. Confusing? Yes, for folks not acquainted with Spanish these verb changes are indeed complicating and maybe even frustrating. Spanish two however is “making impressive progress!”, says Profé O’Connor (Spanish teacher and Academic Dean Kathleen O’Connor).

Spanish three was expanding their class discussion from Spanish language concepts to natural resource and conservation topics of the Spanish speaking world (of course they still did so in Spanish!). After covering an overall synopsis of various regions along with their cultural, historic and ecological highlights, each student selected a country to present a project summarizing these points for that country. Ancient Maya ruins, national parks and coral reefs along with their conservation issues and successes will all be a part of the project. Countries will include Belize, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Columbia, and many more. An interesting fact to support this project is that UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) started a list of all of the world heritage sites with major environmental, historical and cultural importance in 1970. As of 2006, this same list grew to include 130 world heritage sites in Latin American countries alone. It’s inspiring and humbling to think about, reflecting on just how much is out there in our big, grand world!

All of the classes however, took Friday November 1st to acknowledge and learn about El Día de los Muertos. This holiday is said to have started in Mexico hundreds of years ago with influence of indigenous peoples such as the Aztecs, and has since spread throughout the world. Students learned that the holiday isn’t a gruesome or scary depiction of skeletons, but is an honoring, reflective, and even light-hearted time to acknowledge our ancestors and invite them to the celebration of… them! From family members we knew closely to generations long ago, the tradition of the holiday believes that the dead are still with us every day. Students watched this fun and lively video to start class, followed by a lesson and the sharing of a loaf of Pan de Muertos, baked by none other than Profé O’Connor herself!

Overall, this was an enlightening week of Spanish class, just as it is any week. From the far reaches of Northern Wisconsin, students broadened their horizons to include a language, history, and culture that’s typically hundreds of miles to the South of Conserve’s Campus. But when you think about it, perhaps they won’t need to go very far to speak or hear Spanish after all? As Spanish becomes increasingly popular here in the United States, we’re excited that Conserve Spanish students will be on the forefront of this changing world. Be it international travel or everyday communication around their hometown, these Spanish students will be more equipped to bridge language barriers in a conservation-minded way.

Feliz Día de los Muertos, y tiene un buen semana!

-Nick, Academic Coordinator Grad Fellow

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