Spanish at Barnard


Language instruction in Spanish and Latin American Cultures is geared to providing students the skills they need to use Spanish competently in all environments: personal, public, occupational, and educational. Each curricular level in the department (Language, Bridge, and Upper) advances your acquisition of Spanish as a second or foreign language, or in some cases, helps sharpen the skills of students who are already highly proficient.

Spanish and Latin American Cultures language faculty are all linguists with various scholarly subspecialties and vast experience specifically in the field of Teaching Spanish as a Second/Foreign Language (TSSFL). They work in close collaboration with upper-level faculty specializing in diverse areas of literary and cultural studies to ensure continuity in both content and language instruction throughout students’ undergraduate careers.

Our chosen teaching methodologies, adaptable to individual learning styles, aim to fulfill students’ needs. We bring together a number of state-of-the-art practices in language pedagogy:

Task-Based Approach. In our lives, we use our first language every day to accomplish things by interacting, negotiating, persuading, etc. This shouldn’t be different to what we do with Spanish. Instead of learning about the language; we learn how to use the language by using it. The Task-Based approach arranges syllabi around increasingly complex real tasks that enable students to use Spanish effectively to fulfill certain needs. Communication is the core of every lesson, and formal instruction (grammatical, lexical, phonetic, and pragmatic) is not a goal in itself but a tool to accomplish such tasks. Language structures are accessed as needed by tasks, rather than in a fixed order.

Cognitive grammar. Unlike traditionally-taught structural grammar, which focuses on memorization and replication of a series of linguistic forms understood as inherent to the language system, this approach helps students understand grammatical rules by focusing logically on the meaning cognitively conceptualized by language constructions. Students achieve a full grasp of formal nuances that enables them to apply rules to use language autonomously.

Project Approach. In New York City, Spanish cannot be considered a foreign language, and our campus is part of this linguistic and cultural scenario. Every semester, students in the introductory course sequence complete one major project by using Spanish resources locally available. Whether researching the linguistic landscape in different neighborhoods through texts available in public spaces, appreciating Spanish, Spanish-American, and Latina/o art and architecture, attending cultural events, or interacting with Spanish-speaking residents by interviewing them or participating in community activities—our students have access to multiple real immersion opportunities that put them in contact with the city’s diversity.

Content-Based Instruction (CBI) / Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). From the earliest levels we work with real-life documents in Spanish as well as materials developed by our own faculty to simultaneously learn a new language and explore new academic content. These methodologies seek synergy between the cognitive processes needed for language acquisition and the higher-order reasoning involved in understanding any complex subject, so that content processing aids in language acquisition. In courses integrating language and content, the subject matter is learned through the study of language, and vice versa.

Language for Academic Purposes. Language for Specific Purposes approaches target language acquisition to tasks and skills appropriate to learners in specialized settings, like business or medicine. Our department borrows pedagogical techniques from this methodology, applying them to a particular specialized setting: the academic and pre-professional study of literary and cultural issues pertinent to the Spanish-speaking world and US Latino/a environments. As students progress through the Language, Bridge, and Upper levels, instruction is increasingly tailored to elicit high-level performance in setting-related activities, in comparison to the general-purpose needs of learners outside higher education.

Following Anderson, Krathwohl, and Bloom’s (2001) taxonomy of cognitive domain [Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., and Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Longman, New York.], our language program’s learning goals can be summarized in reference to these six levels:

  1. Remembering: The student recalls or remembers the information.
  2. Understanding: The student explains and interprets ideas and concepts.
  3. Applying: The student uses the information in a new way.
  4. Analyzing: The student distinguishes and organizes concepts.
  5. Evaluating: The student develops critical thinking.
  6. Creating: The student creates a new product and expands knowledge.