Each week, The Bates Student interviews a foreign language teaching assistant to get a better grasp on how foreign languages are taught at Bates and understand the importance of teaching assistants. This week I spoke to Spanish teaching assistant Daniel Guarín, who discussed his non-linear path to teaching Spanish, his Colombian education, and the importance of communication over perfection when learning a language.
Bates Student (BS): Hi, Daniel! Where are you from?
Daniel Guarín (DG): I’m from Colombia.
BS: Where in Colombia are you from and what is it like there?
DG: I was born and raised in a city called Armenia, which is like the European country. Armenia’s actually not that famous. But when I mention the coffee region, it is famous now. So my city is a place where the Colombian coffee’s grown. It’s in the middle of the country–like in the mountains. So it’s a small but very beautiful city.
BS: Why did you decide to teach Spanish?
DG: Well, teaching Spanish actually was not my first idea when I finished my high school. I always wanted to be a mathematician, work with numbers. But when I was in the last grade of my high school, my mathematics professor just killed my hopes of being a mathematician. He let me know that I wasn’t going to be a mathematician, but he told me the importance of being a teacher, and the important role of being an educator… So at the same time at my high school I really loved to read, so I wanted to study for literature. So then I looked at the syllabus at the university of my city, which was University of Quindío, and there was a literatures career or a modern languages career. A modern languages career was actually linguistics and literature, but with languages. So I took that one. I studied linguistics and then I applied for a master’s degree in linguistics, with Spanish as a foreign language. So I took that one and I really believe that Spanish is a way of teaching more about culture and language. I didn’t decide it, but life chose me the path.
BS: How have you liked Bates?
DG: Oh, [Bates] is great. You know, my students—I’ve only had a [little] time with them— but so far I’ve had a chance to know a little more about them, their perspective, and to share knowledge and ideas and points of view. So it’s very nice, like the discussions we have or the ideas they have. It’s very nice to see [life] from a different perspective. I like Bates a lot.
BS: Are there any major differences between the education systems and America and in Colombia?
DG: There are many and it depends on the perspective or what parts you’re talking about. Yesterday I was in the Philosophy Club, and they were talking about B.A. and B.S., something we don’t have in Colombia – the difference between a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science. We just have a bachelor’s, and a graduate program – that’s it. That’s the main difference. But here you have four years of college or university, over there it’s five, sometimes six.
BS: Do you have any advice for students hoping to learn Spanish?
DG: Practice! I think practice is the clue. Not being afraid, not being shy. I mean, we can’t think about grammar mistakes anymore–that’s an old thought that people used to have. So I try to convince my students and my friends that are learning Spanish that grammar mistakes don’t really matter anymore. Communication is the clue – not just for Spanish, but for the world. So if I think X and I want to communicate X and you understand X, it doesn’t really matter how many mistakes I am doing – but you understand what I’m doing, I’m communicating. And that’s important. So just try. I think practice is the clue for this.
BS: Do you have any plans for when you finish your time at Bates?
DG: Well actually, I’m currently doing another masters. So I think I’m going to finish the second masters in June or July, and I’m applying for a PhD. So maybe, start my PhD I hope–finally!