Learning foreign language through immersion


Photo courtesy of Tour Guide Jorge Martín.

Erica Batyko

Have you ever taken a wrong turn and felt completely lost and confused? Being immersed in a foreign language can feel the same way. You find yourself in a new country with a different culture and you can’t understand a word anyone says.

Language immersion can be a difficult experience, but that doesn’t stop Kent’s faculty and students from exploring new countries and immersing themselves in new languages.  

Patrick Gallagher, associate professor of modern and classical languages, immersed himself in the Spanish language when he traveled to Spain to visit his brother. After graduating from college, he was unsure of what he wanted to do with his degree in English. Gallagher said he never studied Spanish, but he chose to travel rather than become a teacher or go to work at a bank.

“I worked for six months cleaning barges on the Mississippi River and earned enough money to stay for awhile in Europe,” Gallagher said. “I went to Spain to visit my brother who was living there at the time.”

Gallagher said he faced the challenge of being in a new country with a different culture and a language he wasn’t familiar with.

“It was a challenge,” Gallagher said. “I didn’t know anything about Spain, and I didn’t know any Spanish, but I became very quickly obsessed with learning Spanish.”

Gallagher first arrived in Spain 30 years ago, and even though he studied the language since then, he said he is still learning.

“It was a few months before I felt like I could actually have a conversation with somebody, and it was, of course, broken Spanish,” Gallagher said. “But I worked very hard on it, so I learned it fast.”

Kimberly Talentino, a Spanish professor, also learned Spanish while doing a humanitarian mission in Spanish-speaking Chile.

Talentino said the first six months of her trip were the hardest. She was constantly trying to translate what people said and how to respond.

“I’d go to bed with headaches at night trying to translate everything in my head,” Talentino said. “But then I remember after being there for six months thinking ‘Oh, I don’t have to translate this in my head anymore.’”

She said the ability to communicate with a Spanish-speaking person in their language was the thrill that made her want to continue learning.

This opportunity is not limited to Kent’s faculty. Students in the Spanish department also have multiple study abroad opportunities. Morgan Lehman, a senior English major, chose to study in Salamanca, Spain, last summer.

Lehman traveled to Spain previously, but spoke English during those visits,  studying in Salamanca for one month with other Kent students hoping to improve their Spanish skills.

Lehman attended classes at a language school and lived with a host family, causing her to become completely engaged in the Spanish language.

“It is difficult to speak the language all the time,” Lehman said. “After a while, you’re like ‘come on, can’t I speak a little English?’ but you’re there to be immersed.”

Contact Erica Batyko at [email protected].