The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 25, 2012

Students practice Spanish via Skype call to Mexico

By Kim West

— SALEM — Conjugating verbs and memorizing phrases were put to practical use as Spanish II students at West Limestone High School chatted with two residents of a remote suburb of Tampico, Mexico, during a Skype call Tuesday morning.

“It was a really great opportunity to hear a native speaker,” said Leah Grace, 16, a West eleventh-grader who takes distance-learning Spanish III and was visiting the first-period class.

The students, who are taught by Rachel Story, are required to speak Spanish during class. The 40-minute video call gave them the opportunity to practice with Jose “Paco” Rodriguez and Belen Vasquez, 17, who walked 30 minutes from her job at a rural fruit stand to participate.

According to Bert Wilson, Mexican public schooling begins at age 3 and typically concludes when children are 15, unless they pay to attend a two-year college preparatory school.

Wilson is a pastor at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ who began taking mission trips about six years ago. Wilson and Jarrod Taylor, on a five-day mission beginning Nov. 17, helped set up the Skype call, along with Taylor’s daughter, Rachel.

“We wanted to show my class what it’s like down there, and I thought it was a good learning experience for us,” said Rachel, 17, a junior at West. “All of us were trying to speak in Spanish, and Mrs. Story was trying help us put our words together.”

“I have found that speaking to those who are native speakers of Spanish is a great way to pick up the language,” wrote Jarrod Taylor by email as he was on a flight home Wednesday. “Rachel and her classmates are learning well the academic aspects of the language, but using it and speaking Spanish are different.”

Taylor, who described his Spanish fluency as “functional,” works as a certified registered nurse practitioner at West Limestone Family Care.

“We are West Limestone’s Partner in Education this year so I’m trying to be more keen on ways to interact with the school,” he wrote. “Additionally, as I’m getting back into my normal routine, it occurs to me that the Christians there don’t seem to care — or be impressed with — what I do for a living.

“They aren’t pre-occupied with things like that … they see me the way it should be, as a Christian first and everything else comes after that.”