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Marquis Scholar Sam McDonald ’02, an International Affairs major, has been working this fall semester on compiling information for a textbook that aims to teach Spanish heritage speakers how to communicate appropriately in their home language. McDonald, who is helping to both research and write the text, will continue his work on the project during the spring semester. As an EXCEL Scholar, he is working with Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures.

“The principal communicative objective of the textbook is to expose heritage speakers of Spanish, that is, students who grew up speaking Spanish at home but have had little or no formal instruction in this language, to linguistic structures as they relate to the diverse levels of situational formality and informality in which language is used,” says Geoffrion-Vinci.

There is, says Geoffrion-Vinci, “a growing need for Spanish textbooks that relate to that particular audience of students.” Together with Maria Carreira, professor of Spanish at California State University, Long Beach, and Houghton Mifflin & Co., one of the largest educational publishers in the country, Geoffrion-Vinci will create a text that “provides students with the opportunity to read, write, peer-edit, discuss, and give oral presentations extensively in Spanish.”

As the students learn proper grammar, they will read about important Hispanic figures and their achievements in the United States. They will also read about these figures’ lives in their countries of origin.

McDonald will be selecting a variety of exemplary characters, artists, athletes, scientists, and thinkers prominent in the U.S. Hispanic speaking world using electronic sources, the Internet, periodicals, history books, and mass media.

According to McDonald, the goal is “to find evidence of heritage speakers’ influence in the U.S. and to show these native speakers how interrelated U.S. and Hispanic cultures are.”

Geoffrion-Vinci says it is important for student heritage speakers to have role models active in the American community whose multicultural experiences mirror their own. “The idea,” she says, “is to introduce students to a diverse population of Spanish speakers” and show them the “wide- reaching contributions that U.S. Hispanics have made to this country’s history, government, art, architecture, politics, education, and culture.”

Says Geoffrion-Vinci, “Sam and I are working on two different chapters at the moment. He’s going to be the point man. He’ll come up with the final candidates to include in these two chapters, and from there he will help edit conversational and communication activities, discuss themes, and participate in the writing and creation of readings for these chapters.”

McDonald says, “It’s very important to learn another language and communicate in another language.” McDonald’s mother, a college professor, speaks 18 languages, and McDonald says he grew up with a “love for languages” that was strengthened by studying abroad in Madrid, Spain.

Geoffrion-Vinci insists that she “learns most from her students,” and is delighted to impart her experiences as well as gain fresh insight into the issues of bilingualism through working with McDonald. “He and I are learning together about the history and politics of Spanish speakers in the U.S.”

“In the U.S. we are blessed with a wonderfully diverse Hispanic population,” Geoffrion-Vinci continues, noting that Hispanics now constitute the largest minority in the U.S.

Valedictorian of Boyle County High School, McDonald says, “Ultimately, I would like to get into international politics and the international scene. I’m especially interested in trade law, international economics, and conflict negotiation.”

Categorized in: Academic News