Department: World Languages
Enter Roberto Irurueta’s classroom, and the first thing you’ll see is a poster reading Español o morir (“Spanish or die”). And Spanish is the only language you’ll hear from the initial hola to the final hasta mañana of each class.
Roberto, a native of Uruguay and a specialist in Latin American history, is passionate about teaching language using this “immersion” method. Instead of asking students to memorize long lists of words and capture the fine points of grammar before they begin conversing in Spanish, Roberto teaches students a new language the way they learned their first one.
“Grammar is important, but the point is to communicate,” he says. “If you can communicate, the grammar will improve.” When someone can’t find the right word, Roberto encourages the student to try other words and find a different linguistic path to being understood. “The goal isn’t to memorize and then repeat like a parrot,” he says. “It’s about how you can find the word you want for a particular context.”
So from Spanish I to level VI and honors courses, teacher and student choose and work on real-world projects together. Recently, Spanish III students proposed a trip they’d like to see added to the NMH study-abroad program, and then Roberto helped them with the vocabulary and grammar needed to write such a proposal. “You learn the language better if, first, you figure out what you want to say and then learn how to say it,” he believes.
Drop in on a class in progress and you’ll see students explaining their views to one another in Spanish, making mistakes, correcting one another, and persevering, with Roberto as coach and guide to the new language.
Roberto is also assistant director of multicultural affairs at NMH, and dorm head in North Farmhouse, NMH’s all-gender residence hall.
Inside and out of the classroom, Roberto’s philosophy is the same: “Education should be never-ending, and we need to teach one another, to help people discover the knowledge they have inside themselves.”
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