Q: So how is it you learned four languages?
A: I don’t particularly think that’s too many, but I suppose I have an affinity for language acquisition. Noam Chomsky theorized that all of our minds are predisposed to learn languages, and perhaps my family has an acute ability. That might explain why most of my cousins, nephews/nieces speak at least three languages. Since very young I exhibited a passion for trying to make sense out of sounds which in turn developed into language learning. Growing up (in the Dominican Republic), I taught myself English when I was 14. My brother is also a polyglot. He has written in several languages for newspapers in the Caribbean, France and Italy.
Q: You know English and Spanish and…?
A: French and Portuguese. Portuguese emerged from my interacting with my extended family and friends in Brazil and French from formal study of the language at the French Alliance and in college. One reason I find myself interested in learning different languages is that they offer a window to a different world of music and literature. Growing up I was an avid, almost compulsive reader and I wanted to read Hemingway and Shakespeare and Steinbeck in their original English. To appreciate authors like Baudelaire and Victor Hugo, you really need to read them in French. During (Union’s Jan. 14) commencement, the student speaker (Herton DeOliveira Filho) quoted Paulo Coelho from The Alchemist, which is a beautiful novel in any of its more than 56 languages, but which is particularly powerful when read in its original Portuguese. And of course, to really understand the meaning of One Hundred Years of Solitude, one must read García Márquez’s masterpiece in Spanish.
Q: What about students who aren’t blessed with your language-acquisition talent?
A: We have many students here who are gifted language learners, and many come with a spectacular linguistic baggage. Those never miss a change to use their target language and typically progress very quickly. For those who aren’t naturally inclined or intrinsically motivated, we rely on tried-and-true methodology and teaching techniques. Engagement is essential. Immersion into the language and the culture is the best way for students to learn and when those things are done right, everyone gets a fair chance.
Q: Anyway, you’re this Dominican language-learning prodigy, and then one day you’re teaching modern languages at Union County College.
A: Well, it didn’t all happen overnight. While still attending Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago, I started teaching at Universidad APEC, which had an articulation program with Seton Hall University. While at APEC, one of my projects was to design and teach a three-week immersive Spanish course for aspiring priests attending the Immaculate Conception seminary at Seton Hall. In exchange, some UNAPEC faculty would come to Seton Hall for graduate studies. I was one of those. As a graduate assistant at Seton Hall part of my job was to do ‘simultaneous translations.’ It’s similar to what our American Sign Language people do in signing during an event. We would pair up and translate nonstop from French or Spanish into English. Aided by some noise-cancelling equipment and a mic, we had only a few seconds to decode what’s heard, translate it and say it to the audience. The presenter speaks at a natural speed and never stops or waits for the translator. You never know what’s going to be said next. It’s a crazy brain-draining endeavor. On the more fun side, I also wrote a newsletter for the Puerto Rican Institute. One very similar to this one.
Q: You’ve got a husband you actually met while you were a graduate assistant at Seton Hall.
A: He also attended Seton Hall, but we did actually meet at UNAPEC. We just celebrated our 15th anniversary, and we have two young sons.
Q: OK, but back to what you did before you wound up at our College.
A: I taught French and Spanish at a middle school in Far Hills, New Jersey, and then for several years at the Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison. At Wardlaw, I taught in the middle school and upper school Honors. I developed and co-taught a curriculum for the middle school called ‘prima lingua’ which was a program that explored the modern languages through their basis in Latin.
Q: But then you saw an ad for Union County College…
A: My first love has always been teaching adults, as I did for nearly seven years (in the Dominican Republic) so I decided to sort of go back to my origins. I began at Union in 2008, and fell in love with the College. This is a linguistic jewel, a place I appreciate so much because of its incredible linguistic diversity. It’s like a candy store here. We have an amazing body of students with so many different languages and cultures to offer. As the coordinator of the Modern Languages area I get to experience that diversity first hand, which makes me very happy.
Q: Back to curriculum development, you created a Spanish-focused curriculum for Nursing students here at Union.
A: Yes, the focus is on teaching Spanish to healthcare professionals, using Spanish terminology that is unique to the profession, such as anatomy and physiology. The curriculum combines language with culture so that practitioners are able to learn about the connotation and nuances associated culturally with the Spanish language.
Q: So what’s next for you as a polyglot? Will there be a fifth language?
A: Well, since I’ve traveled extensively throughout Europe as well as Central and South America, I feel the next big frontier for me should be Asia or the Middle East. I think learning an Asian or Semitic language would be lots of fun.