Roberta Carew Immerses Herself in Spanish Language During Her Sabbatical — Faculty Highlight

By Dani Moritz-Long

One of the best ways to truly understand a language is through immersion — to dive head-first into a culture and fully immerse one’s self in the application of the respective language. But while this methodology is proven to be effective, that doesn’t make it easy. Nonetheless, Mathematics Professor Roberta Carew, who began learning Spanish in fifth grade, decided to take a stab at immersion — using her recent sabbatical as the time she needed to deeply immerse herself in the Spanish language.

“I absolutely love languages,” she said. “I find it exciting to be able to express myself and to be able to communicate with people in more than one tongue.”

Beyond her personal enjoyment of learning languages, however, Roberta wanted to spend her sabbatical refining her Spanish for two primary reasons: her students’ development and her personal development.

“I would love to engage more with my Spanish-speaking students,” she explained. “I teach math and statistics, which can be a struggle, especially for students who are not native English speakers. It would be really fantastic to be able to explain things that may be an obstacle because of language barriers rather than mathematical understanding. I know that I need to practice more to be comfortable enough to step out and do that.”

The second reason, she said, has more to do with own personal development. “I want to learn more languages,” she said. “I took an awesome refresher course called Hola Amigos through Faculty Development. It was great! I asked the instructor – who speaks a number of languages fluently – how she separates them all in her brain. She said mastery is the key. Once you master a language it stays in its own box. When you know a little bit of this and a little bit of that, the brain substitutes whatever it can find when you reach a blank on the word you were searching for despite the language you intended to use. I can speak some Italian, some Tigrinya and even a few words of German and French thanks to my sixth grade language class. I often find that when I speak Italian a lot of Spanish creeps in, and when I speak Spanish sometimes I substitute a few Italian words. I realized that I need to master Spanish so that I can make progress with the other languages I am working on.”

To accomplish these objectives, Roberta planned an immersive sabbatical that featured ample opportunity to practice the language. Throughout her sabbatical, she scheduled time to practice via free language apps and conversations with Spanish-speaking friends, as well as by listening to Spanish-language TV, movies, audio books and bible passages.

To further immerse herself in the language, she also spent two weeks in Ecuador with a friend who has family in various regions across the country.

“We stayed with my friend’s relatives who spoke very little English,” she said. “As a result, I had to speak only Spanish for the majority of the time I was in Ecuador. We did some sight-seeing, spent time with family and participated in Bible-education work. I was very apprehensive at first. I didn’t speak much, and I was anxious when left alone with family members out of fear of speaking on my own. But, by the end of the visit, I felt like part of the family. In fact, my friend’s aunt called me her ‘sobrina preferida.’ That means her preferred niece. I still tease my friend about that! I cried when I left and so did her grandparents. I definitely will be planning a return trip.”

Reflecting on her experiences, Roberta says her sabbatical was the time of her life — a memory she’ll cherish forever both professionally and personally.

“My sabbatical was an amazing experience, and I look forward to visiting Ecuador again soon,” she said. “I encourage anyone who is considering a sabbatical to seriously think about it and to submit an application. I loved every minute of it!”

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