USD Spanish Professor partners with Peruvian University
3 mins read

USD Spanish Professor partners with Peruvian University

Last spring, Angela Helmer partnered with an women’s school in Peru and provided an experience for the students in her advanced Spanish communication class.

The idea came to Helmer when she recognized an issue with learning Spanish in a town like Vermillion.

“Because of COVID, our students cannot travel abroad, and also living in Vermillion, South Dakota, we don’t have many Spanish speakers. I think our students are at a disadvantage up to a certain point,” Helmer said, “Not only do we not have speakers of Spanish here, but also no native speakers, and that makes a huge difference.”

One of Helmer’s colleagues agreed that creating a partnered program between USD and the Peruvian school would be beneficial for their students, Helmer said. So, they decided to collaborate.

“(My colleague) leads a translation program at a university in Peru, and we thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we do a project together, and our students can maybe talk to each other?'” Helmer said. “They need to practice their English , and our students need to practice their Spanish, so I thought, ‘Oh this would be a good fit.'”

The assignment was straight-forward, Helmer said, and aimed at improving students’ communication skills in their non-native language. With only 10 Zoom calls, Helmer said the students were able to improve their speaking skills in little time.

“The students had to meet every week and have a Zoom conversation recorded. So, they had to do at least 15 minutes in Spanish and 15 minutes in English, and towards the end they became friends,” Helmer said.

Senior Sydney Fulton was one of Helmer’s students who took part in the class last semester. She only had positive remarks about the program, and said she was grateful to be able to partake in it.

“I really enjoyed collaborating with the girls in Peru. I remember my first Zoom call with my partner—her name is Vivian. We messaged each other a little before our Zoom call, and I told her I was nervous because my Spanish skills were not incredible, but she was very kind and assured me that her English was not great either and there was nothing to worry about,” Fulton said. “During our call, Vivian was very easy to talk to and we understood each other well.”

Fulton said she has since put her Spanish-speaking skills to use. Over the summer, she studied abroad in Spain. There, she said, she was able to not only utilize her existing Spanish-speaking techniques, but also improve them.

“This program was incredibly helpful. I took the class right before I studied abroad in Spain for the summer,” Fulton said. “The class, especially my conversations with Vivian, boosted my confidence in holding a conversation with a Spanish speaker. It absolutely prepared me for study abroad and gave me a personal view of Peruvian culture and lifestyle. Not only did my conversation skills improve, but I realized that I didn’t need to be afraid of making mistakes when speaking another language.”

Because the university only offers the class once per year, Helmer is not sure when she will get to include this program in her class again. However, she hopes to repeat it when she next gets the chance.

“I’m not teaching a conversation class this semester. We only offer it once a year. If I teach it again next year I will definitely do (the partnership) again,” Helmer said.