Sarah Geegan


College: Arts and Sciences

Students Engage in Service Learning, Enhance Second Language Proficiency

Published: Jan 30, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 30, 2013) Everyone knows that one of the best means to attaining proficient knowledge of a language is immersion. But is there a way to make this experience even better? Researchers and teachers are currently seeking ways to expand the immersion technique.


Francisco Salgado-Robles, lecturer in the Department of Hispanic Studies, believes the answer to this question is to get the students outside of the classroom. Salgado-Robles is an advocate of service learning, which is producing positive educational experiences in many departments on campuses across the globe.


“Service learning is experiential education that engages students in activities that address human and community needs together," Salgado-Robles said. "It is conducted through structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development.”


In other words, it is a way to get students out of their desks and into another learning environment – one where they can simultaneously improve their conversation skills and participate in community service.


“From what the literature shows and from what I have experienced, I believe that incorporating service learning into the language classroom engages students in responsible and challenging actions for the common good,” Salgado-Robles said. “It provides the students with structured opportunities to reflect critically on their service experience, to expand their awareness and understanding of social problems and, overall, it enables them to learn from a different segment of society.”


Salgado-Robles first became interested in the benefits of service learning during his graduate studies at the University of Florida. He investigated the extent to which learners of Spanish acquired variable structures of language and concluded that students who participated in service learning during their sojourn abroad experience had a stronger grasp of Spanish language variation at the end of the term.


After graduating in 2011 with a doctorate in Hispanic Linguistics, Salgado-Robles moved to Lexington and began teaching Spanish and linguistic courses at the University of Kentucky. It was a beneficial and exciting move for Salgado-Robles because he was able to develop a Spanish service learning educational program in Lexington with the support of his colleagues.


Students in Salgado-Robles’ courses work with a variety of partners across the city, with groups such as the Center for Family and Community Services and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.


“At the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, the students are usually door greeters at a bilingual tax help service, which helps administer a free legal consultation for migrant workers. It’s a fruitful experience for the students,” he said.


The students converse with community members regarding cultural customs, habits, festivities and so forth. Salgado- Robles said that the students usually come to class telling their classmates the stories they learned from the people they were helping.


Opportunities also exist for students in more specific disciplines to integrate service learning into their educational experience. Advanced medical students are able to develop their communicative and translation skills thanks to Salgado-Robles’ relationship with the Samaritan’s Touch Clinic at the UK Hospital.


Other partners in Salgado-Robles’ service learning initiatives include the Village Branch Public Library, Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate, the YMCA, and Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary Church.


The list does not end here, because Salgado-Robles encourages his students to seek out other community partners for group projects. The students in his Spanish for Business Professionals class last spring and fall met with Hispanic business owners and associates throughout the city.


Outside of Lexington, Salgado-Robles initiated a new and successful education abroad program last summer: “Cultivating Intercultural Competence through Service-Learning in Seville.”


He took 15 undergraduate students to his hometown of Seville, Spain, where he explored the effects of service learning in a very different setting from Lexington, Ky.


“In Spain, it’s a Spanish-only policy," he said. "It’s not even a policy, it’s a reality. Southern Spain has little exposure to foreign people, so not very many people in the region speak English.”


Students also learned to be familiar and comfortable with the cultural components of the language. This was the primary emphasis behind Salgado-Robles' service learning programs in Lexington and Seville.


The broader region of southern Spain was another opportunity to expose the students to cultural and linguistic variation.


“Every weekend we went out of Seville,” Salgado-Robles said. “One weekend we went to Granada, visited gypsies’ caves and had the opportunity to learn about their culture and language (calé), one week in the south of Portugal we could expand our knowledge about the border language portuñol (half Portuguese, half “Español”), and another weekend was in Gibraltar, where we could see the effects of language contact, Spanglish. I chose these places because they were contact zones, where there was a fusion of language and cultures.”


From Lexington to Seville, it is that fusion of cultures that enhances the educational experience for Salgado-Robles’ students.




MEDIA CONTACT: Sarah Geegan, (859) 257-5365;

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