Dr. Hector Urrutibeheity has created a Spanish program especially for The Women’s Institute of Houston that is unparalleled in this city. Urrutibeheity’s program is uniquely immersive and comprehensive, and he has brought with him two of his doctorate-bearing students from his Rice University classes. We visited with him to find out more.
WIH Reporter: Can you tell us more details about the Spanish program that you have developed for The Women’s Institute?
Urrutibeheity: The Spanish program at WIH is designed exclusively for adults who want to learn Spanish. Our teaching method takes into account the fact that adults often have different reasons for learning a language and also a different way of learning. In our classes, for instance, students are given CDs on which each new lesson is recorded with pauses for them to repeat plus oral exercises to complete.
WIH Reporter: There are Spanish classes offered all over the city of Houston. Please explain how this program is different.
Urrutibeheity: All three instructors in our program have doctorates in Spanish linguistics. They have taught Spanish for several years at the university level. They are familiar with the approach I have developed, and both Dr. Kluger and Dr. Arbizu-Sabater were my students at Rice University. All three of us have taught languages in other countries: Dr. Arbizu-Sabater has taught Spanish in Poland, Dr. Kluger has taught in Israel, and I have taught English in Argentina.
WIH Reporter: What reasons do people generally have for wanting to learn a foreign language? Why is this potentially important in a city like Houston?
Urrutibeheity: Most participants in our classes want to be able to communicate in Spanish, whether it is in Houston or when traveling within a Spanish-speaking country. Eventually, they will be able to read original texts (short stories, newspaper articles, novels) written in Spanish.
WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about learning a new language?
Urrutibeheity: The teaching techniques we use at the WIH were developed by my experiences teaching English, French and Spanish in college courses and in university extension courses. Learners no longer have to memorize lists of words and they do not have to answer questions in the language from the very beginning. The instructor makes sure that every student learns the new materials IN CLASS. They are given a CD on which the materials that were introduced were recorded with pauses for the learner to repeat. Students who can spend a minimum of 15 minutes every day listening and doing the activities in the CD will be surprised to see how well they understand and speak the new language after only a few weeks of study.
WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do people have about learning new languages?
Urrutibeheity: Learning a language in a context in which the student “wants” to learn is quite different from one in which they “have” to learn it, as in a college course. Students´attitudes have a lot to do with learning not only languages but any other subject. In our language classes, progress of the class depends totally on how ALL members of the class are learning the new material. Again, our instructors do not have “to finish the book”. Their main and only objective is to make sure that participants keep being motivated to learn the new language and avoid the all too frequent frustration that sometimes develops in beginning classes.
WIH Reporter: How is the language program set up?
Urrutibeheity: The language program is organized around three levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced. Each level consists of two, seven-week sessions. The advanced level can be taken several times. Students often take it to maintain their knowledge of the language, to increase their vocabulary and to practice their listening and speaking skills.
For more information on Dr. Urrutibeheity’s Spanish language courses, click here.