Intercambio

CMC offers a new way to teach language and foster cross-cultural understanding

Welcome to Intercambio, a successful language program offered by Colorado Mountain College. It is a new way to teach language that fosters peer learning as it breaks cultural barriers. Students who want to learn Spanish are paired with Spanish-speaking students who want to learn English.

Intercambio, Spanish for “exchange,” transforms the classroom into a gathering place as Spanish and English speakers seek common ground. Once each week they share their own language and the awkwardness of learning a new one. Beyond the curriculum, shared life stories and cultures bloom into rich relationships which carry into the community.

The program has become immensely popular because of changing demographics in the Colorado Mountain College District where many of Colorado’s international resorts are located. Workers from Latin America now comprise a large part of the resorts’ workforce. The sudden rise in the Latino population has created a communication crisis in the region’s schools, businesses and communities. At the same time, businesses are pursuing international trade opportunities and are seeking employees with bilingual skills.

Division Director Jonathan Satz modeled Intercambio after his own language learning experience in Costa Rica.

“One of the most effective things I did was to meet regularly with motivated students of English for language exchange at one of the local cafés. We would converse in both Spanish and English without the fear or pressure associated with a classroom environment,” he says.

Later, Jonathan and Bilingual Education Director Laura Marasco implemented a similar program as a pilot at Colorado Mountain College. Although the idea of language exchange was not new, a nationwide search for similar programs showed that none were being offered as structured courses within a college curriculum. Intercambio is breaking new ground.

The program strives to create an ideal environment for language learning-one where everybody is a teacher and everybody is a student. Anxiety, self-esteem and self-concept play a major role in learning languages. So the program’s creators worked to create an environment that would be comfortable for students and lower the role these filters play.