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ASU professors provide language lessons to high school students

The faculty taught Portuguese, Italian to the students through interactive lessons that included language, culture

Group of heritage Spanish speaking high-school students

Group of heritage Spanish-speaking high school students at the Friendly House’s TRiO program.

August 05, 2021

This summer, faculty from Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures provided lessons in Portuguese and Italian to a group of 86 students participating in Friendly House’s Talent Search college and career readiness program.

Friendly House’s TRiO program is the only nonprofit of its kind in Arizona, serving primarily middle and high school first-generation students from low-income families. The program seeks to support and encourage these students toward a path of higher education.

“Language isn’t something that people generally hear when talking about higher education,” said Vanessa Sandoval, college and career readiness TRiO adviser.

Not only did the summer camp sessions provide students an opportunity to learn a different language, but it also exposed them to more possibilities in higher education.

Friendly House offers many programs with adult education, immigration, family services, and workforce development. The TRiO program in particular works primarily with middle and high school students in the Phoenix Union District, providing them with support and guidance for college enrollment.

“I wanted to integrate a cultural education aspect with this year’s summer camp. Exposing them to different careers that are out there, specifically to different languages, is so important because students really don’t know what other careers are out there (in higher education) besides sciences,” Sandoval said.

ASU organizers and participants include former Assistant Director of Academic Services Barbara Fleming, Assistant Professor of Portuguese Ligia Bezerra, Senior Lecturer of Portuguese Cezar Augusto Ponti Medeiros and faculty and students from the Italian program.

“I met with the students over Zoom and taught them Italian vocabulary, how to introduce themselves and about the diverse languages and regions in Italy. I was inspired by my professors and the Italian department to share this beautiful language with other students,” said Chloe Larson, a chemistry and Italian senior at Barrett, The Honors College. Larson is also the president of the Club Italiano at ASU.

The professors provided interactive lessons in Portuguese and Italian, highlighting not only language but culture. Lessons included discussions of the demographics of various regions, from the food that they eat to the sports that they play and the music that is most popular. Some students were even able to recognize many of the artists. At the end of each session, the students had the opportunity to converse with the professors in breakout rooms, forming both sentences and paragraphs.

Many of the TRiO students were heritage Spanish speakers and lessons on Portuguese and Italian cultures proved to be relatable to them.

The lessons, according to Sandoval, “tapped into their hobbies and interests — music, sports, food — and expanded those horizons of what’s possible.” 

At the end of the summer camp, TRiO students took home some school-branded bags and certificates proclaiming them future Sun Devils.

“What the professors shared of their own experiences helped motivate the students as well,” Sandoval said. “ASU is a university that many of these students already know. I think a message that many of them might take away is that this is within reach. ASU is where these professionals come from, and it’s somewhere that I want to go.” 

This article was written by Raegan Mills, co-editor of the School of International Letters and Cultures newsletter, in collaboration with Enrique Martín-Bonneville, communication specialist in the School of International Letters and Cultures.

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