Oberlin College & Conservatory

Oberlin OnCampus

Sign In

Taking Language Learning Outside the Comfort Zone

May 20, 2011

  Photo by Dan Mendlik, Cleveland Indians

Top Row: Barbara Sawhill, Matt Richardson, Erika Karsch, Lyz Glickman, Emma Rodriguez. Bottom Row: Allegra Fonda-Bonardi, Griff Radulski, Anne Wildman, Elise Shulman-Reed, Katie Cabrera, Orlando Cabrera, Sam Stewart, Olivia Scott

On Wednesday, May 11, students enrolled in the Hispanic studies course Communication and Conversations in Spanish Speaking Worlds traveled to the home of the Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field, to interview infielder Orlando Cabrera.

The point of the trip wasn’t to get an insider’s look at major league baseball, even though they did. Nor was it to get a behind-the-scenes look at Progressive Field, although they did that, too. The point of the trip was to hone their ability to communicate and converse in Spanish by spending time talking about a variety of topics with Spanish speakers.

“To improve conversational abilities in a second language, students must push themselves out of their comfort zones,” says the course’s instructor, Barbara Sawhill. “Students must enter unknown and different contexts if they are to explore new words, idioms, accents, etc.”

The class wasn’t interested in Cabrera simply because his first language is Spanish. He is also Colombian, and the class had spent time during the semester talking about Colombia and the mala fama (bad reputation) it gets in the movies, the press, and in music.

“I wanted to provide the class with as many alternatives to those examples of mala fama as possible,” says Sawhill. “I wanted them to see the diversity of stories that come from a place that is often reduced to a dramatic headline in our media.”

During the semester, the class watched several films by Colombian filmmakers, one of whom, Paola Mendoza, visited campus and screened her movie Entre Nos. Class members used Skype to interview immigrant-rights activist Orlando Tobón, who plays himself in the movie Maria Full of Grace, and the program director of the Barefoot Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by pop star Shakira to provide schools for displaced children in Colombia.

“Continuing with the idea of being able to speak with important, influential, and interesting Colombians, I contacted the Cleveland Indians organization about the possibility of our class interviewing Cabrera, who is one of three Colombians currently in the major leagues,” says Sawhill. “To our delight, they said yes.”

In preparation for the interview, class members learned baseball vocabulary, and they created four categories of questions: Cabrera’s life in Colombia and the sport of baseball there, his career prior to the Indians, his work with the Indians, and his personal life and what he does when he is not playing baseball. That evening, when Cabrera had his first at-bat in the Indians’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Sports Time Ohio mentioned the class’ visit during its broadcast.

Visit the class blog to see more pictures from the visit, view the Sports Time Ohio video, and read the students’ comments, which are written in Spanish.

So, did the students reach outside their comfort zones?

“I think being underneath Progressive Field and in the Indians press room with a World Series champion and two-time Gold Glove winner from Colombia definitely qualified as one of those out-of-your-comfort-zone experiences,” says Sawhill.

Comment on this article

To prevent spam, comments will be sent for approval before they appear on the website. Sign in to comment immediately.

  • Write anything you like as long as it’s civil and productive. Attack ideas if you wish, but not people. Oberlin = love, remember? (Seriously. Be nice or your comment will be removed.)