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Multilingual Motivation

12/05/2012

It was through study abroad programs in Spain, Great Britain and the United States that Dr. Graziana Ramsden, who was born in Italy, learned how to communicate in multiple languages. It's a skill she says is particularly essential in this day and age.

Perhaps equally important, students in Ramsden's upper level courses also learn to develop cultural awareness and the ability to recognize cultural differences and adapt to different cultural contexts. 

"I also try to give my students the tools to be successful presenters and writers.  I teach presentation skills at the beginner level of Spanish and Italian, which is a hard task for students who may have never presented before, and who have to do so in a foreign language," she explained.

Ramsden, who specializes in foreign language teaching methodology and second language acquisition, also directs the Spanish minor program. She enjoys the challenge of motivating a student who believes he or she cannot "do" language.

"While it's true that not everyone can learn to speak a foreign language, I think that my classes give all students - regardless of background, GPA or SAT scores - the opportunity to achieve some proficiency in Spanish or Italian by the end of the second semester," she said. "Nevertheless, over 90 percent of my students do well and learn important skills for their future, in both academic and work-related settings."

Born in Taranto, Italy, Ramsden explored the world throughout her education. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Venice, where she majored in Spanish literature with a concentration in linguistics and a minor in British literature. She also studied in Spain, Great Britain and the United States through study abroad programs, and earned her doctoral degree in Hispanic languages and at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In addition to encouraging her students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities, she takes students overseas through various travel courses she teaches. Her trips with students to Italy allow them to explore cities and regions with a native Italian.

"I have become aware and appreciative of cultural differences, and I have made lasting friendships," she explained. "As a language student, my experiences abroad taught me many things, from avoiding obvious pronunciation or vocabulary mistakes to dodging the kind of errors that brings about considerable miscommunication problems and social blunders.

"I share with my students who prepare to go abroad that, as a foreigner living in nations with other languages and customs, one develops a kind of resiliency which, if accompanied by a sense of humor, can turn any situation, mishaps - as well as disasters - into a learning experience."

In addition, "Our young scholars are travelling nationwide, bringing the MCLA name into the spotlight as an excellent public liberal arts college where students and faculty work together to further meaningful scholarship."

Because she teaches all levels of Spanish and Italian at MCLA, Ramsden said the College is a perfect venue for her to test her teaching methods and theories on second language acquisition.

For example, in 2010 she experimented with a Hispanic civilization class, exclusively using virtual texts, such as those from Web sites, digital books and digital maps, and presented the results at an international conference on teaching and learning scholarship in Barcelona, Spain.

When she was job searching, MCLA stood out to Ramsden from other universities because of its close-knit, supportive environment.

"When I came to campus to interview, I met many faculty colleagues and students who welcomed me warmly, and who were interested in me.  I already had a couple of job offers in place when MCLA offered me the job I hold today, but I said yes to MCLA because I somehow knew that this was the right place for me. And I never looked back."