Portland Adventist Academy Students Enhance Their Language Skills

The first miracle of the early church was the ability of all members to communicate in other languages. Cross-cultural communication is still vital for Jesus’ followers today if we are to take the gospel to the whole world.

Portland Adventist Academy has embraced a philosophy of language acquisition that, while not quite as miraculous as the day of Pentecost, is helping students to cross linguistic and cultural boundaries.

Many of us remember our language classes as lists of vocabulary, grammar drills and culture sound bites. In contrast, PAA’s program is based on acquisition-driven instruction. This means teaching in a brain-friendly way to develop real skills in language and deep cultural understanding.

For example, while reading the book Esperanza, the true story of one family’s escape from a dangerous political situation in Guatemala, Spanish students grew in their language proficiency while learning about history, geography and current events.

Miranda Patoray, PAA junior said, “This quarter I learned a lot about Guatemala. I think this was really good for me because often we don’t go in depth in studying other countries in other classes.”

Presenting a variety of perspectives is vital for avoiding stereotypes. Students also read short biographies of diverse Guatemalans, including an Olympic gymnast, a child prodigy pianist, the creator of the language-learning app Duolingo and a fashion designer with Down Syndrome. Students were also surprised to learn that Guatemala is home to more millionaires than any other Central American country.

Kate Spencer, PAA senior, said about her experience, “Before we did our unit on Guatemala, I did not know that much about life and the culture there ... I was glad that we got to see Guatemalans of many different economic classes, lifestyles, jobs, etc. Esperanza’s story was incredibly good, and brought light to what being an illegal immigrant can be ... We saw how hard it was for her to get legal status.”

Students used their Spanish skills in a Q&A session when Matthew Strube, a PAA alumnus from Guatemala and the father of a PAA student, came to class to share his story with the class.

To finish the year, students read Siempre Marina by Rita Barrett, PAA Spanish teacher, which is the true story of Annette “Marina” Lobaina, a local Adventist from Bolivia. When students interviewed her the last week of class, they could see how much their Spanish proficiency had grown.

Cal Patchin, PAA junior, said, “It was so satisfying being able to speak in Spanish and being able to understand what the other person was saying … I feel like my language skills improved tremendously this quarter. I can tell a vast difference in my speaking skills. I was really able to tell that I was getting better at speaking when Annette came to class … I was able to understand what she was saying very well, and I was able to ask a question in Spanish without needing help from [my teacher], Profe."

As PAA students develop valuable language skills that help them connect with Spanish speakers and gain cultural sensitivity, they are also gaining eternal skills followers of Jesus need to share His good news with others.

Featured in: September/October 2022