Ryerson Spanish professor takes teaching beyond the classroom

Alex Usquiano addresses the crowd during the ‘Articulations’ event. (Yasmin Arnaout/Ryersonian Staff)

In an effort to bring together two languages in one interactive learning experience, Ryerson University Spanish professor Enriqueta Zafra’s annual “Articulations” event proves that language is not a barrier, but an invitation to address cultural roots and undiscovered stories.

This year marks Zafra’s fourth in uniting her Spanish students and local Toronto artists. The gathering focuses on foundational speaking aspects of the Spanish language and builds upon an appreciation for the arts.

“Articulations” is a project that involves the students of the Spanish 402 course interviewing artists in attendance to encourage them to practice Spanish and understand the differences between various Latin American accents. Zafra reached out to several local Hispanic artists and asked them to speak about their work and their roots in their native language as part of a unique learning opportunity for her students.

“‘Articulations’ is to articulate how you speak, how you communicate, not only through language, but through art,” she said. “I thought, if I could combine the passion for the arts with the passion to communicate in Spanish, that would be a perfect match.”

Learning any language is a challenge. Nonetheless, Zafra’s dynamic learning environment eliminates intimidation by incorporating local Hispanic artists’ work into her classroom, and reminds students that learning a language goes beyond pronunciation.

Students are just as passionate about the interactive learning style as Zafra herself. Lydia Kuhnen, a third-year business management student at Ryerson, sees the value in having a cultural and educational opportunity like this one.

“I think it’s really cool that we get to talk to artists because you want to have a good practical experience in talking to people so it gives you that,” she said. “I’m really interested in art so it’s good to mix both.”

Students were introduced to several Hispanic artists of multiple disciplines, including graphic designer Liliana Vera, painters Carlos Delgado and Jesus Mora, photographer Alex Usquiano and musician Eduardo Clavell. The entire presentation was in Spanish, to give Zafra’s students the chance to absorb all that their roots have to offer. As enrolment in Spanish classes at Ryerson has risen considerably over the past few years, interactive course material can continue to encourage students to study the language.

“The students are so happy about being able to [learn Spanish] in a group setting, and having the experience of an intimate interview,” Zafra said.

 Students collectively felt that they would be more likely to take courses if they offered unique interactive learning experiences such as this one.

“I think the more practical things you can do, the more you’ll remember it, and it will become something that [is] engraved in you,” Kuhnen said. “If business classes had more interactive stuff, especially if you’re in third and fourth year, I think that’s really important.”

Several artists explained their work and how their roots have impacted it, as well as what they have done to get where they are in their artistic career. The artists know how important art is in unifying people. The Hispanic umbrella encompasses many different Latin American nations, and since each of the artists come from different parts of the region (Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, etc.), students were particularly curious to get to know artists that come from their own roots.

“I love the arts, and I love to be involved in the community in Toronto, so I don’t miss an opportunity to check [the artists] out,” Zafra said. “I try to explore what the city offers for the Hispanic community, and you’d be surprised how generous people are with their time. When you invite them to talk about their passion, people are super generous and they like to communicate that.”

For students like Adriel Casillas, Zafra’s method of interactive teaching is something that would help all students prepare for the real world outside of the university campus. The fourth-year business management student believes that interactive learning teaches respect.

“If they require it as a foundation to help society after we leave school, then I’m all for that,” he said. “The more globalization, the more we have to be informed of peoples’ cultures and be respectful of them.”

Zafra approached graphic designer Vera back in November 2016 about participating in the “Articulations” event. A Mexico native, Vera has flourished over the past two years of her stay in Toronto. The city has given her many opportunities to collaborate, which is a main difference between the arts scene here and in Mexico. This collaborative nature inspired her to bring her artwork to Zafra’s classroom.

As one of only few Mexicans who spoke both English and Spanish in college, she was subjected to a lot of criticism. Instead of letting it get to her, she channeled this identity into her art, and is now pursuing her postgraduate degree in fine arts at Ryerson.

“Being here in Canada, I’ve molded even more,” she said. “Now I feel better that I have a way of expressing myself.”

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