A new Mississippi State University student organization, Linguae Connections, is in the process of recruiting tutors to teach Spanish and French to first graders at Sudduth Elementary. Kaleb Riley, a senior foreign languages major, began the club as his capstone project for MSU’s Montgomery Leadership Program.
Maria Bracamonte, a senior business administration major, is co-leader of the club with Riley. According to Bracamonte, she and Riley were interested in introducing Spanish and French cultures to the wider Starkville community. Bracamonte said it was not all fun and games as the pair ran into difficulties when they first started to form the club.
“It was kind of rough at the beginning. We had this amazing idea, we wanted to give this to the kids, but we were having a really hard time finding who to find who to be partnered with,” Bracamonte said
However, Bracamonte, who had previously served as a translator for local elementary and middle school students, was able to reach out to her contact at the elementary school, Morgan Abraham, the principal at Sudduth. Riley and Bracamonte were then able to set up a meeting with Abraham to discuss their idea.
“(Abraham) was very excited about the idea,” Bracamonte said. “She took it as a great opportunity for the children.”
Riley said, by learning the rudiments of Spanish and French now, it will be easier for the students to pick them up later in life. Furthermore, studies have shown other cognitive benefits associated with being bilingual.
“Elementary school students … are pretty much in their prime to learn a language,” Riley said.
Right now, the club is seeking competent Spanish and French speakers willing to volunteer their time. According to Bracamonte, recruiting tutors has been a challenge thus far.
“Our recruitment for tutors (has) been pretty tough because Mississippi State doesn’t have a big language department,” Bracamonte said. “There (are) not a lot of people at this university (who) are fluent enough to teach a second language. We have been doing a lot of recruitment over the weeks … We have been going to the advanced (Spanish and French) classes, pitching our idea, trying to get them interested in the program.”
The German Club at MSU has been tutoring students in the local elementary schools since 2017, but Riley said his idea came independently.
“I didn’t actually know the German club was doing it,” Riley said. “At the beginning, we were going to try to get a class created so that you would get class credit for service hours for tutoring at Sudduth. (The Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures department at MSU is) working on doing that, but we didn’t know that at the time.”
MSU Spanish professor Kelly Moser is working to show the importance of teaching foreign languages to K-12 students.
“Nationwide, we have a significant shortage of qualified world language teachers,” Moser said. “Mississippi State University used to have an option for traditional students in education to seek a license to teach (languages). That program was closed in the last couple of years, but the need is still there.”
Moser noted tutoring children can be a valuable experience for aspiring teachers.
According to Riley, once Linguae Connections is up and running with some stability, the club could potentially incorporate the German Club as well.
Bracamonte said tutoring children in a second language will help them in various ways throughout their lives.
“We are trying to not only bring the knowledge of a second language to the kids, but also opening their minds from a young age for them to experience the world above what they know right now,” Bracamonte said. “We really think they’re going to have more opportunities in the future, not only because it has (been) proven that learning a second language at a young age helps retention, (but also) since with Linguae connections we’re teaching them the same things they’re already learning in school … The effects of this program will be seen when these kids are in college or even later in life.”