Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Volunteer partnership helps students learn, teach languages

DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) recently established a new partnership that will provide DU Spanish language students an opportunity to use their skills as they also explore a vibrant culture right in their own backyard.

The new partner is Intercambio de Comunidades, Interchange of Communities, and the students will be volunteering as English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, says CCESL Director Eric Fretz.

Intercambio, founded in Boulder in 2000, recently opened a branch in Denver. Its mission is “to build respectful communities and broaden opportunities for immigrants through language education, cultural exchange, and friendship.”

Intercambio is addressing a salient community issue,” says Fretz. “They are helping non-native speakers assimilate into mainstream culture and society.”

Zulema Lopez, a lecturer in DU’s languages and literatures department, is already working with Intercambio and says intermediate Spanish students will be able to earn 5 percent of their grade by volunteering with the organization.

“We’re always seeking ways for our students to get involved with the Hispanic community,” says Lopez. “This will allow them to teach English and also use their Spanish.”

Intercambio Program Director Todd Sainer says the DU students will receive six hours of training over two evenings at the end of September. Then, they will be matched with an individual or family within a month.

“The learning is really a two-way street,” says Sainer. “Some volunteers teach in homes and that’s how friendships are built. They may spend an hour and a half doing course work, speaking English, and then they can chit chat in Spanish afterward. It’s a great way for DU students to be engaged in a different culture.”

Fretz agrees. 

“The students will work with people who are really different than them, in both language and socioeconomic levels. One of our foundational aphorisms is that ‘everybody does better when everybody does better.’ We need to find ways to connect people so that our neighborhoods and our schools and our communities are stronger.”

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