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Spanish writing workshops: a comfortable space for remote language learning

October 2, 2020

Every Monday at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. EDT, the Hispanic Studies Department holds one of a series of Creative Writing and Journalism in Spanish Workshops for Bowdoin students, hoping to offer a unique take on language learning in the virtual sphere.

“These talleres [workshops] started this semester as a way for us to build on the expertise of our fellows and create more opportunities for virtual connection in Hispanic Studies,” said Margaret Boyle, associate professor of Romance languages and literatures, in an email to the Orient.

Since the workshops are taught entirely in Spanish, the department encourages intermediate- to advanced-level students to attend.

The workshops are hosted by Hispanic Studies Teaching Fellows Natalia Sánchez Loayza and Isabel Ibañez de la Calle. Both earned a Master’s of Fine Arts from New York University. The two fellows hope to give upper-level students the chance to explore and practice the language in a non-academic space. Both seminars focus on new writing topics each week, ranging from dialogue coaching to news analysis.

Sánchez Loayza aims to push students to encounter Spanish in real-world situations and to improve their language skills by reading and discussing Spanish-language journalism.

“I think that it is always a good thing to jump, to try to read and listen to Spanish as much as possible,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

In addition to practicing Spanish, Sánchez Loayza introduces her students to reputable news sources outside of the United States and holds group discussions about the articles.  She hopes to help students become more acquainted with both the Spanish language and global events, as well as to broaden their political perspectives.

“I think it is important to be informed about what is going on in other countries, especially under these times and especially during these political events,” she said. “It is really important to read good journalism and see what it looks like apart from journalism in this country.”

Ibañez de la Calle focuses on the expressive potential of the Spanish language. By introducing workshop participants to a specific writing skill each week through language exercises, Ibañez de la Calle allows students to explore Spanish with a fresh pair of eyes.

“If the students have been writing something in the week, they can show it to the workshop,” Ibañez de la Calle said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “If they haven’t, we just do the exercises, and at the end of the class everyone shares what they have written.”

Above all, Ibañez de la Calle wants her students to develop their passion for Spanish. She believes that by exploring the language through expressive means, Bowdoin students will have a unique opportunity to fall in love with the language as a creative medium.

“One of the things that I want students to have is to have fun learning a language, which is how you would do it when you were a kid,”  Ibañez de la Calle said. “I also think it’s a unique opportunity to have fun with Spanish and to do something in college that is…not so rigid. Something where you can just use your imagination as you want.”

Ibañez de la Calle also recognizes that creative writing in any language, foreign or otherwise, can be emotionally taxing due to the inherently personal nature of the genre.

“In this kind of workshop, people share things,” Ibañez de la Calle said. “If you write, even if you’re writing fiction, you always share yourself.”

Both Sánchez Loayza and Ibañez de la Calle aim to create a comfortable and encouraging environment for sharing personal writing. The workshops average two to three students each week, creating a close-knit community that is conducive to intimacy and creativity. While other programs at the College might have to navigate the constraints of remote learning due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), these seminars are tailored to virtual platforms and thrive in it by allowing students to practice writing and speaking in Spanish from the comfort of their own homes.

“[Remote instruction] has its benefits because being in a comfortable space—maybe your room or somewhere else—can make you feel comfortable about sharing your work,” Ibañez de la Calle said.

“I really trust in writing workshops because it is a privilege to have someone read your work and maybe do some intelligent critiques,” she added. “Really, all of us are learning how to write and how to construct a nice story.”

Both the Journalism and Creative Writing in Spanish workshops will run throughout the fall semester and are accessible through Zoom. Students at the College may RSVP on CampusGroups.


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