Spanish professor named visiting scholar at Duke, UNC

René Ibarra, associate professor of Spanish in the Foreign Languages Department, has been named Visiting Scholar at Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 2022. This grant, given through The Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, is awarded to college educators to find innovative material for new classes or to add substantial material to existing courses.

The number of students enrolled in world languages at universities in the United States has decreased, which has led language educators to work on creating new courses or changing the content of existing courses substantially to increase student interest and enrollment in language classes, said Ibarra.

“I applied for the grant with the intent to add innovative themes that could be more appealing to students’ interests,” Ibarra said.

Most of the new courses are aligned with the guidance on promoting language studies in the U.S. proposed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the Modern Language Association. In 2007, the MLA Executive Council also proposed changes focusing on transforming academic programs, and making translingual and transcultural competence the center of language teaching.

“As language educators, I hope that we widen our learners’ linguistic skills and improve their intercultural competence while exploring more appealing and interesting themes,” Ibarra said. 

Ibarra’s main objective is to find new material that can appeal to students such as music, food, clothing, and Indigenous and African heritages in Latin America cultures.

“If this material has the impact that I expect, it will help us increase the number of students in our Spanish upper-level courses not only among Spanish-language students, but also among those with Hispanic or Latino backgrounds. As the number of Hispanic students grows, I would like to offer an opportunity to explore popular cultures from Latin America.”

Some popular culture topics that he intends to add include Latin music styles such as corridos, reggaetón, salsa and merengue, food (pupusas, chiles, mole, tamales, chocolate), and their cultural importance among others. He says this will allow him to develop activities for the class which will encourage students to think critically while incorporating 21st Century leadership skills.

“I will be using some of the same material to teach an Honors course in English, giving students the opportunity to explore popular cultures from Latin America and, at the same time, fostering intercultural understanding among the students,” he said. “I would like to propose more courses such as ‘Latinos in the USA,’ ‘History of Rock and Roll in Latin America,’ for example.’