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Basia Moltchanov, assistant professor of Spanish and foreign
language pedagogy in UD's Department of Languages, Literatures and
Cultures, makes her introductory Spanish courses engaging by
incorporating interactive quizzes and group activities.
First-year students, prospective students (and some of their parents)
wonder and worry how they will handle the academic transition from high
school to college. In a series of stories, UDaily speaks with University
of Delaware professors who teach courses commonly taken by students
during their first year on campus. The series includes professors who
teach biology, writing, business, calculus, political science and
sociology, and those stories can be read on the How I Teach website. In this story, Assistant Professor Basia Moltchanov explains her approach to teaching Spanish.
As students walk into her Spanish II class at the University of
Delaware, Profe Basia Moltchanov asks each and every one of them, “¿Cómo
estás?” She knows all of them by name, knows all of their majors, and
asks them about their hobbies and interests. In a unit about likes and
dislikes, Moltchanov discovered that one of her students doesn’t like
coffee, so she often quips with him that he won’t be able to pass her
course, because what normal human being doesn’t like coffee?
The interactions — which are spoken entirely in Spanish — serve as
more than just pleasantries. They help Moltchanov connect with her
students, and they make the class fun.
And that’s exactly what learning a language should be: fun.
“Teachers can be experts in their content, but if they don't know how
to translate that content to somebody else, what's all that expertise
good for, in a classroom?” said Moltchanov, assistant professor of
Spanish and world language pedagogy in the Department of Languages,
Literatures and Cultures. “It’s important to connect with your students
and show them the value of learning another language.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Students practice word sequencing by writing the morning routines of various celebrities.
In terms of learning outcomes, students can expect a big increase in
vocabulary in the second-level introductory course. But perhaps more
importantly, they’ll become more confident in their Spanish-speaking
abilities. In class, Moltchanov rarely speaks English. She directs the
students in Spanish — rewording phrases and repeating herself when
necessary — and as the semester progresses, the students understand more
“Giving them a little more confidence in their ability to understand
and use the language is a big part of the class,” she said. “I
wholeheartedly believe anybody can learn a language. It has to do with
listening, paying attention, being focused. I'm a very firm believer
that we all are programmed genetically, as humans, to learn a language.
We all speak one language already, so you can learn another one.”
A quiz at the beginning of each class reinforces the vocabulary and
grammar rules that they learn during the asynchronous portion of the
hybrid course, followed by a group activity, conversation or writing
assignment — putting into practice what they learned online. In one
particular class, student groups were tasked with writing the morning
routines of various celebrities, including Harry Styles, Kate Middleton
and Zendaya, to name a few.
The point of the activities isn’t to get perfect scores on the
quizzes or write grammatically flawless scenes in Spanish. Indeed,
making mistakes is part of the process, and it’s something Moltchanov
wants her students to embrace.
“It’s important to let the students know that it's okay to make
mistakes,” Moltchanov said. “We all make mistakes in English when we
speak, and it's going to be even more common for you to make mistakes in
Spanish or in any language that you're learning. It’s important to not
be afraid to make mistakes, not be afraid to try, not be afraid to ask
Maya Feinstein (left), a sophomore environmental studies major,
enjoys learning about different cultures. “It’s important to learn about
the world around us,” she said. “It brings us outside of ourselves.”
Moltchanov’s class is taken by many first-year students and those
looking to fulfill the three-semester language requirement of many
majors. Many students, recognizing the value of learning a second
language, end up minoring in Spanish or earning a certificate.
“Research has shown time and time again that learning another
language helps brain function,” Moltchanov said. “Your brain works in a
different way. When you’re learning another language, your brain has to
think about things in a different way. Instead of compartmentalizing,
you're processing two languages at once. So you're processing more in
your brain, and it's sort of like a muscle that you're exercising.”
Conner Malley, a senior studying public policy, initially enrolled in
the class to satisfy his major’s language requirement, but the class
has ended up being one of his favorites.
“I love learning languages,” he said. “In high school, I took four
years of Latin, and I really wanted to diversify the languages that I
know. I'm really enjoying the class so far. Especially once you get to
the second level of college learning, you get out of the basics and into
some more advanced sentence structures and vocabulary. Señora Basia has
been absolutely amazing in helping to facilitate conversation and
collaboration between people, which has been really exciting.”
Moltchanov is not a native Spanish speaker. Born in Delaware to
immigrant parents, Moltchanov spoke both English and Polish growing up.
Her mom, Krystyna Musik, who also teaches Spanish at UD, is of Polish
descent but grew up in Argentina. Still, Moltchanov rarely heard Spanish
Basia Moltchanov, assistant professor of Spanish, said, “It’s
important to not be afraid to make mistakes, not be afraid to try, not
be afraid to ask for help.”
Moltchanov didn’t take a formal Spanish course until high school, but
found that she really enjoyed it and did well. (Indeed, “Once you know
one language, it’s easier to pick up more languages,” she said.) In
college, she continued taking the classes she loved, and she earned a
bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies and Spanish at UD. She later
earned a master’s degree from Wilmington University and a doctoral
degree in education from UD, and has been teaching at UD ever since.
Maya Feinstein, a sophomore studying environmental science, said she
enjoys learning another language — and learning about different cultures
— because it can serve as a way to connect with others.
“I think it can bring us together as humans,” she said. “It’s
important to learn about each other to gain more empathy and
understanding, and it’s important to learn about the world around us. It
brings us outside of ourselves.”
The University of Delaware empowers all Blue Hens with the skills and
strategies they need to succeed. UD students in any major are
encouraged to take advantage of a range of peer tutoring services, as
well as comprehensive skill-building resources offered by the Office of
Academic Enrichment (OAE). Most services are available free of charge.
To learn more, visit the OAE website. Students may also utilize the Blue Hen SUCCESS platform to connect with their academic advisor or access additional resources on Advising Central.
For UD’s community of educators, the Center for Teaching and
Assessment of Learning (CTAL) offers programs, workshops and
confidential consultations to support faculty as they develop and
achieve their pedagogical goals. UD instructors at every stage of their
career are invited to explore online and contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The How I Teach website provides a collection of the stories in this series.
Article by Amy Wolf, photo by Kathy F. Atkinson, photo illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase
Published December 23, 2022