Roxana Levin was nominated for the Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL) Faculty Spotlight because of her commitment to student learning, her work in being a pioneer in international studies program, and by serving as an inspiration for countless Spanish students. As an Instructor of Foreign Language at the Tarpon Springs Campus, she teaches Spanish in face-to-face, online and blended formats.
Levin, who was born in Argentina, received her bachelor’s degree in Math Education from the Instituto del Profesorado Técnico in 1991. She studied at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel. She received her master’s degree in foreign language education from the University of South Florida in 1996.
CETL caught up with Levin to learn about teaching Spanish:
CETL: How did you get started in foreign language education?
Levin: My love of foreign languages started in elementary school in my native country of Argentina. I was very fortunate to attend schools in which studying other languages was an important part of our education. The high school I attended in Buenos Aires required students to study English or French, Hebrew, Yiddish and Spanish. We were so focused on language and culture, that we had the opportunity to get involved in exchange programs with schools from Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru. As soon as I graduated from high school, I was recruited to teach Hebrew at a bilingual school in Buenos Aires and I continued my foreign language education after I moved to Israel and enrolled in English courses at the University of Tel Aviv.
CETL: What prepared you for your faculty role?
Levin: Since an early age, I discovered that I had a fascination with both mathematics and foreign languages, which studies have shown to have a special relationship in the brain. Starting in my teen years I began to use my skills to tutor friends in math and foreign language classes. This gave me immense satisfaction and I was convinced that I would become a teacher so I completed a bachelor’s degree in Math Education at the Profesorado Técnico of the City of Buenos Aires. When I moved to the United States in 1990, I immediately decided that I wanted to continue my career in education, so I enrolled in a master’s program in foreign language education at the University of South Florida. While I was studying my master’s program, I had the opportunity to teach Spanish and Hebrew at Hillel School of Tampa. I was subsequently offered a full-time Spanish position at Berkeley Preparatory school as soon as I graduated from USF. However, my true passion was in higher education so after teaching evening courses at HCC and SPC as an adjunct, I was very fortunate to be offered a full-time position at SPC to start the Spanish program at the Tarpon Springs Campus.
CETL: What new developments are happening in your field?
Levin: Every year, I attend the national conference of the American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages. It is an amazing experience since thousands of language educators from around the world share their latest research regarding second language acquisition, the newest methodologies and technologies in the field. Technology and language learning go hand-in-hand since through the latest technologies, students are able to improve their language skills as well as immerse in the target language using YouTube videos, reading newspapers and websites in Spanish, communicating with people on Facebook and Twitter in their native languages, texting with friends using their new language skills, and many other social media and phone apps, which make learning another language very meaningful.
CETL: What are your biggest challenges in preparing students for the field of communications?
Levin: The biggest challenge in teaching students other languages is helping them to overcome their fear of speaking a different language in front of other people. Many students come to us with some background in language learning from high school; however, it is usually a negative experience since they were required to learn mainly the structures of the language instead of immersing the students in the language and the culture. Other students have in mind that they are too old to start learning a different language and feel that they will never be able to become bilingual or even to be proficient in a different language other than English. The process of “demystification” of foreign language education is a great challenge since it takes sometimes many weeks until students realize that anyone could learn another language; it takes motivation, discipline and determination.
CETL: What do your students seem to appreciate or enjoy about your class?
Levin: Students really enjoy the passion I bring into my classes. We sing in Spanish, we dance, we write poems in Spanish, we read children’s books in Spanish, we watch films in Spanish; we immerse ourselves in the language and the culture. They also appreciate all the opportunities they have to practice the target language with classmates as they are developing their speaking, reading, listening and reading skills. Students really like all the extracurricular activities I offer them as enrichment such as Spanish speaking films and Hispanic cultural events (concerts, festivals, visits to restaurants, etc.).
CETL: What teaching strategy do you find effective?
Levin: In my classes the students are fully involved in the language process; they learn while using the language. I believe that adults should learn another language as if they were children or teenagers through music, games, visuals, technology and other hands-on modalities. Each of my lesson plans presents many activities in which students are responsible to accomplish tasks individually, in pairs or in groups. Those activities include role-play, projects, presentations, information gap activities, surveys, etc. Through these kinds of activities, students are learning Spanish in a low-anxiety environment, which ensure great outcomes and enjoyment.
CETL: What are you most excited about regarding your faculty role?
Levin: Teaching is the most honorable and enriching profession. We have a chance to feed our students with knowledge as well as keep growing while we touch their lives. However, teaching and learning must go hand-in-hand in a very compassionate and lovable way. Students search for the meaning of life while they listen and learn from their “maestros” and mentors. We have been given the opportunity to guide them through that quest. I truly believe that is an honor for us to be given that chance to influence so many lives as we continue growing intellectually and emotionally.
CETL: What can students do to prepare for a career in your field?
Levin: Students really appreciate that they are able to communicate in the language after a few months and they are able to use the target language to talk to their Hispanic friends, to speak to customers at work, and to use the language when traveling in Spanish speaking countries. The importance of learning another language nowadays, in a time when globalization and international opportunities are so diverse and great, provides the students with the most important character trait to learn another language: self-motivation. One of the greatest experiences that students could embark on in higher education is the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program in which they are immersed in the language and culture. For the last six years, I have been leading SPC students in these immersion programs and I have seen the positive impact it has provided in their lives linguistically, personally and professionally. Many students who have participated in those programs continue their Spanish education and ensure that they will be able to use the language in their respective careers and professions. They understand that learning another language is an adventure that can open many doors. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart” – Nelson Mandela.
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