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Language Tutors Share Culture, Knowledge

Studying a language can be a difficult task when the only place to practice is inside the classroom. While the College of William and Mary does offer many study abroad programs that focus on language, it also offers an alternative much closer to home. Instead of going abroad, students can practice their language skills with native speakers who act as language house tutors.

Each of the eight specialized language houses occupies an individual floor in Giles Pleasants or Preston Halls in the Randolph Complex.

The tutors, one for each language, provide a valuable resource for students living in the house and for students studying the language by planning activities and providing educational individual tutoring.

"I have conversation hours, movie nights, tutoring hours and dance classes," Spanish House tutor Alicia Fernandez said.

The tutors provide students with many opportunities to practice their language first hand while interacting with other students. Additionally, the tutors also educate students on the culture of their language.

"They are a valuable resource," Jasmin Harper '13 said. "They are native speakers so they are useful for questions about the language and also about getting insight into their culture."

Language House tutors are chosen through a variety of programs. Arabic House tutor Randa Tawfiq was invited to the College through the Fulbright Scholar Program.

"My professor was a Fulbright scholar, too," Tawfiq said. "He showed me the ad in the newspaper. I had the things they required. They interviewed me and gave me the grant."

Once Tawfiq was selected, her application was sent to universities in the United States. Tawfiq and other students accepted to the Fulbright Scholar Program do not apply to specific universities. Instead, they are chosen by a university.

"They ask you in your application where you prefer to live, but I didn't write down anything," Tawfiq said. "I hadn't heard of William and Mary before, but I looked it up on the internet, and everyone told me that I was lucky to go there."

Fernandez was selected to be a language tutor through an offer from her summer job where she taught English to Spanish speakers.

"I found out about the job through the company I worked for, MundoLengua," Fernandez said. "A lot of foreign students go to learn Spanish through this program in Spain for about five weeks during the summer, or for a semester during the year."

Through MundoLengua, students from the College study abroad in Seville for a semester or in Cadiz for a summer. As an aspiring teacher, coming to the United States to teach students Spanish is a step in the right direction for Fernandez.

"My goal is to be either a Spanish teacher or an English teacher," Fernandez said. "This is a stress-free job. I like teaching, so I like helping people with languages."

In the Spanish House, the language tutors alternate between dialects from Mexico, Argentina and Spain, since the College offers study abroad programs in each country.

Tristan Sardelis '10, a resident of the Spanish House, applied last spring to live in the house.
"I am a Hispanic studies major, and I just came back from studying abroad in Seville," Tristan Sardelis '10 said. "I wanted a way to keep up with the language."

As a prospective French major, Harper agrees that living in the language house and having more frequent access to the language tutor can benefit learning and language fluency.

"I am considering living in the language house sophomore or junior year because I want to major in French," Harper said. "I would be surrounded by people that have a similar interest, and I would have the opportunity to speak French to people in my hall whenever I felt like it."

In order to inform students who do not live in the language houses about activities, tutors post on the bulletin boards in Washington Hall and tell language professors about their activities.

"I created a Facebook group," Tawfiq said. "I send schedules each month to all of the Arabic professors if I have an activity."

On top of their responsibilities as language house tutors, they are also enrolled in one or two classes each semester.

"We are not students or faculty, we are in between," Tawfiq said. "My favorite part of the job is interacting with students and learning about their culture."

Fernandez agrees that working as a language tutor at the College has allowed her to meet many new people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures.

"It is a great experience," Fernandez said. "I think everyone should do this once in their life. I am trying to get everything I can out of this experience while I am here."