Spanish has the second largest number of speakers in the world, spread over many different countries and continents: Spain; North, Central, and South America. A major in Spanish offers several different specializations and an endless number of career opportunities.
As you study Spanish, you will work to develop proficiency in the four language skills: listening/understanding, speaking, reading, and writing, focusing on understanding and speaking in the early course work. Success in learning Spanish requires a willingnesss to practice vocabulary, expressions, dialogs, as well as the willingness to set aside inhibitions and take risks. In elementary and intermediate Spanish, you will focus on reproducing sounds accurately, learning vocabulary, phrases, and grammatical and verbal structures, within the framework of authentic situations. After these basic courses, you can take courses in the culture and literature of Spain and Latin America.
Most colleges require two semesters of Spanish for the degree. As you take these credits, you will be able to experience, in capsule form, what a major in Spanish is all about: proficiency in the four skills, culture, literature, Iberian or Latin American studies. You will also be able to decide whether a major in Spanish is for you, and if you choose Spanish, what specialization you will choose.
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After college, the job choices you will have with a Spanish major are limited only by your imagination and initiative. You can pursue a career as an interpreter for individuals, businesses, diplomats, government agencies, medical facilities, the courts; as a translator of documents, articles, manuals, books; as an editor reviewing and preparing material for publication; or as an educator teaching Spanish to students K-12, at the college/university level, and to adults individually or in specialized schools, programs.
The growing number of Spanish speakers in our society has created the need for individuals who have a strong command of Spanish combined with knowledge of another discipline. You can increase your value to an employer by adding a minor in a field that interests you or in which you have some aptitude. You will find opportunities in international business and banking, real estate relocation, marketing, management, manufacturing, law, law enforcement, government, politics, foreign service, medicine, education, the arts, journalism, radio and television, technology, travel, sports, religion, social work, personnel.
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As you move through the elementary and intermediate levels of Spanish study, in addition to studying the language itself, you will be exposed to the culture and literature of Spain and Latin America. You can select a specialization in the Spanish language or in the literature of Spain or Latin America.
If you specialize in the Spanish language, you will take courses in Spanish conversation, grammar, composition and style, translation, Spanish for the professions (medicine, social work, law enforcement, education, business). A specialization in Spanish literature will include courses such as: culture and civilization of Spain, introduction to Spanish literature, Spanish literature of the Golden Age, the short story in Spain, the 19th century novel, contemporary Spanish literature, and Spanish theatre of the 20th century. If you choose Latin American literature, you will study the culture and civilization of Latin America, introduction to the literature of Latin America, the Latin American short story, the Latin American novel, and contemporary Latin American literature.Your college may have additional courses.
Besides the courses in Spanish, as early as possible, you should take a computer course in word processing, so that you will be able to use the Spanish keyboard or the codes for inserting Spanish accents and symbols. Training in use of the Internet will also be helpful for using search engines and other sites for research and fun.
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In discussing your proficiency in Spanish when you present yourself to prospective employers, you can demonstrate your knowledge and expertise by focusing on some of the key words and expressions that follow.
Pronunciation and intonation
These are the sounds and the melody of Spanish. Knowing the sounds, especially of the vowels, how sounds are linked, when the voice rises or falls, will all help you produce a Spanish that is as near-native as possible.
You will be expected to be able to speak and write on a wide range of topics dealing with survival, daily living, career, and social situations. For this, you will need the vocabulary appropriate for that topic. Because of the extension of the Spanish speaking world, you will also need to know important vocabulary that is different between countries (el carro - car Latin America.; el coche - car Spain).
If you will be writing in Spanish in your career, your command of spelling has to be precise and needs to include the ability to use technology for accents and symbols. Although you can get help from a spell checker on your computer, it is wise to learn correct spelling the first time you encounter new vocabulary.
Grammatical and verbal structures are what establish relationships between words and give meaning to your utterances. You will need to demonstrate a good command of these structures which in many cases are either different from English structures or are not utilized in English.
Oral and written expression
As a Spanish major you will be expected to express thoughts, ideas, suggestions, proposals orally and in writing, using appropriate vocabulary and grammatical and verbal structures.
In order to be successful in your career in Spanish, you will need to be able to draw meaning from statements of other speakers and from printed material. This involves having exposure to the variations in vocabulary, pronunciation, and accent in speaking and styles in writing.
Within the countries of the Spanish speaking world, there is a basic culture derived from Spain which has been enriched by many other cultures (Indian, African, European, and Asian) that interact within each country. You will be expected to know, understand, and appreciate both the salient features of the culture of the Spanish speaking peoples and the differences between that culture and your own.
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As a Spanish major, you will be expected to have developed certain skills. Knowing what these are will help you focus on their acquisition as you progress though the Spanish program.
Are you a good listener? As a Spanish major you will be expected to be a good listener and to understand what you are hearing. You need to train yourself to focus on the essential elements of the speaker's comments within the framework of variations in pronunciation and usage.As you begin to listen, you need to determine what is specific about the speaker's speech and adjust to it. Throughout your college work, you should seek opportunities to listen to Spanish speakers from different countries and to interact with them.
Your knowledge of Spanish needs to be such that you are able to interact with other speakers of Spanish naturally and comfortably. This requires practice to develop fluency so you can speak with ease and self-confidence. In developing proficiency in spoken Spanish, you should adopt standard Spanish pronunciation and avoid imitating regional pronunciations which tend to sound artificial in those who are not from that region.
As a Spanish major, you will be expected to have the ability to read material of varying degrees of difficulty, from basic to advanced, and to draw direct meaning from the material. While there are times when you may have access to a dictionary or other reference material, you cannot depend on this.
Good writing is acquired across the curriculum. In Spanish, you will be expected to write organized, interesting text using appropriate vocabulary, correct spelling with required accents and symbols, and accurate grammatical and verbal structures. Everything you write is critiqued and will guide you to effective writing.
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The Voice of Experience
Learn from seniors who have been down the road ahead of you. Here is one senior's candid reflection on life as a Spanish major:
I. Why did you choose your major?:
I chose Spanish as my major for several reasons: I have read many travel books and find the Spanish speaking countries the most exciting; I like the sound of the Spanish language; and I enjoy trying foods from the different Spanish speaking countries. I decided that with Spanish I could major in a discipline that would allow me to pursue my interests and provide me an entrée into a career that I would enjoy.
2. How did you decide on your second major or minor?:
I decided to choose International Business as my minor because I think it is an excellent complement to my Spanish major in that I can be involved in business with Spanish speaking countries and have opportunities to travel there.
3. How did this major meet your expectations?:
Spanish has met my expectations by providing me with skills and knowledge that are exciting in themselves and that have given me a tool for success in my career. I learned to speak with good fluency by classwork, language lab practice, films, speakers; I learned to read and enjoy the literature of Latin America (my specialization); I feel the satisfaction of expressing myself well in writing.
4. What disappointed you about this major?:
It´s not really a disappointment, but it is something I wish had worked differently. I decided to do study abroad in Argentina during the spring semester of my junior year. While I was there I took exciting courses and had an incredible experience, but none of the courses I took helped me meet the remaining degree requirements at my college. Because of that, I have had to stay at my college for an additional semester in order to meet all of my graduation requirements. I wish I had decided earlier to study abroad, so I might have taken extra courses or gone to summer school and not have to stay an additional semester with its expenditure of money and time.
5. What has challenged you the most about this major?:
As an American with no visible foreign language in my heritage, I learned Spanish from scratch. What I found the hardest was mastering the pronunciation; while the consonants have sounds similar to English, the vowels are shorter and clearer, and linking between words makes it seem as if sentences are long words. Getting good at speaking Spanish has meant many hours of working with tapes and television. But, it was worth it!
6. How has this major prepared you to get a job that you'll love?:
My major has prepared me for a job in international business in the Spanish speaking market. I have acquired fluency in Spanish and self-confidence in using it; I can express myself accurately in writing; I can read literary or business Spanish with direct understanding; I know a great deal about the culture of the Spanish speaking countries. I am ready to accept an assignment in a Spanish speaking country.
7. What do you know now, as a senior, that you wish someone had told you about this major three years ago? What advice would you give a student just entering this major?:
When I decided to major in Spanish, I jumped in with enthusiasm and did not really have a long-range plan. Each semester when it came time to register, I just "took courses." Now I find myself spending an extra semester because I didn't plan. I would advise a student just entering this major, or any major, to take the time to sit down and plan out the courses and other activities that need to be taken each year until the degree and department requirements are met. Also, at the end of each semester, or certainly at the end of each year, check to see what has been completed and what remains to be done. In some colleges you create a plan with your advisor who then monitors your progress.
When you begin your career in Spanish, you will soon see that contacts and connections are very important. They will lead you to further knowledge, to work and study opportunities, trends, and innovations. While you are in college pursuing your major is a good time to begin to make connections. Become acquainted with Spanish and other foreign language organizations. They offer in one place many benefits that will help you in your career in Spanish: a journal, a newsletter, meetings, workshops, travel opportunities, placement services, and even group insurance plans.
You may qualify for membership in the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society or one of the general foreign language honor societies. If your college does not have a chapter, perhaps you could convince one of your Spanish professors to explore establishing a chapter on your campus.
Sigma Delta Pi
Sigma Delta Pi (National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society/La Sociedad Nacional Honoraria Hispánica) is the only national honor society devoted exclusively to students of Spanish in four-year colleges and universities. It recognizes excellence in the study of the Spanish language and the literature and culture of Spanish speaking peoples.
Alpha Mu Gamma
Alpha Mu Gamma is the national collegiate foreign language honor society; it is open to students of all languages. The society recognizes excellence in foreign language study and promotes interest in foreign language study and in the development of understanding of other cultures.
Phi Beta Delta
Phi Beta Delta is a national honor society dedicated to recognizing the scholarly achievement of international students and scholars, students who have studied abroad, and faculty and staff who are involved in international activities.
The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese is a professional association for teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. It promotes the learning and teaching of Hispanic, Luso-Brazilian, and related languages, literatures, and cultures at all educational levels.
The Modern Language Association of America is a professional association for teachers of English and modern languages. It is dedicated to strengthening the teaching and studying of languages and literatures. The MLA has over 30,000 members in 100 countries.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, founded in 1967 by the MLA, is a national organization dedicated to the improvement and expansion of the teaching and learning of all languages at all levels of instruction. In 1986, ACTFL first published the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for foreign language study and in 1995, National Standards for Foreign Language Education.
The Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium is an association of professionals from the fields of education and technology who are involved in computer-assisted instruction and learning in foreign languages.
Just as Spanish organizations can help you get connected, Spanish magazines and journals can help you keep informed about what is happening at the moment in Spanish: new businesses, new slants on existing careers, innovations, research, technology, culture, and politics. Keeping informed will help you in your course work and will give you an edge when you begin your job search.
Magazines and Trade Journals
Hispanic Business. This journal contains articles on all aspects of Hispanic business including new businesses, growth of existing businesses, owners and executives, trends.
The Chronicle. The monthly magazine of the American Translators Association contains articles and other information for translators.
Research journals and Academic Publications
Hispania. The journal of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese carries articles on teaching, language, linguistics, literature, and technology as they relate to the learning and teaching of Spanish and Portuguese.
PMLA. The journal of the Modern Language Association publishes members' articles on languages and literatures.
FL Annals. The journal of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages publishes articles on foreign language teaching and learning.
The CALICO Journal. Published by the Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium, this journal is devoted to the relationship between technology and language learning.
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This is the place to deepen your knowledge of the field. Whether you are a graduating senior, or still deciding if you want to major in Spanish, you'll find here a more detailed overview of the field.
What Is Spanish?
Spanish is a modern foreign language with the second largest number of speakers in the world. It is the official language of Spain, several islands in the Caribbean, Mexico, and most of the countries in Central and South America; it is also used as a second language in countries whose official language is not Spanish, as in the United States. Transportation and technology have spread the knowledge of Spanish throughout the world. With a Spanish major, you can find employment in this country or abroad in many careers.
The scientific analysis of the Spanish language may appeal to you. In this field, you will examine the Spanish language as language, conduct research studies, and present your findings at meetings of scholars or publish the findings in books or journals, or you may work for a learned society devoted to linguistic studies.
Spanish has a rich literary history spread over Spain and Latin America. Through the study of literature you can learn about the history and development of Spanish speaking people, as well as about their psychology as a people. You will read works from different genres (poetry, plays, short, stories, novels, essays), different periods, and different literary movements. You will read and discuss literary works under the guidance of your professors, but you should not neglect to consult some works of literary criticism on your own.
A translation needs to capture the meaning of the original text while maintaining the spirit of the language into which the translation is made. For this reason, translators can do their best work translating into their native language. You can translate from Spanish into English. You will need to understand the grammatical and verbal structures of Spanish and be sensitive to the nuances of Spanish vocabulary; in addition, you will need a good command of English and the ability to make the translation flow naturally.
Today there are many opportunities for Spanish majors who wish to write. There are opportunities in newspapers and magazines, in radio and television, on the Internet, and in publishing. To be successful, you will need course work in Spanish composition and style and practice in writing, so you can produce writing that is accurate, organized, and interesting.
In addition to all the other opportunities for Spanish majors, there are also opportunities in education. If you decide that you want to teach Spanish, you can do so K-12 in a public or private school, in a college or university, or in adult programs. In order to teach in grades K-12 in the public schools, you will need to take education courses in order to meet state certification requirements; in addition to course work, you will need field experiences observing several Spanish classes and student teaching for at least one semester. You will also be expected to have experience working with children/youths from the age group you will teach.
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The language and culture of Spanish speaking people evolved over centuries from a blending of influences first from peoples who went to the Iberian Peninsula and later from groups that either were in Latin America at the time of the discovery or arrived later.
On the Iberian Peninsula, the Iberians, Celts, Carthaginians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Goths, Moors, and Jews made linguistic and cultural contributions. The largest contribution was from the Romans, and Spanish is considered a romance language (a language derived from Latin) and has many institutions adopted from Rome. In Latin America the language and culture have been influenced by the native groups that were there at the time of the discovery: the Caribs, Tainos, Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Araucanos, and many other smaller groups; subsequent influences have come from Africans, Italians, English, Irish, Scots, Germans, Chinese, Japanese.
The literary history is quite extensive: some highlights follow. During the Middle Ages, two literary strands developed: the popular, such as the jarchas and the epic poem, Cantar de Mío Cid, and the erudite, such as the Cántigas de Santa María and El libro de buen amor. The influence of Italian poetry was strong during the Renaissance. Prose began to develop, and the appearance of theTragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea was a significant event. The Golden Age was a period of outstanding literary production; Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quijote de la Mancha;the playwrights Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca produced an incredible number of successful plays; poetry also thrived at this time. During the 18th century, Spain seemed to take a rest in its literary production; there were essays and fables, but nothing to match what preceeded nor what followed. During the 19th century, romantic poetry with its rebellion and passion reigned in the first half of the century, and the realist novel in the second half. The generation of '98 at the beginning of the 20th century created a debate between those who wanted Spain to solve its problems by looking at its own resources, represented by Miguel de Unamuno, and those who believed Spain should look to German systems, represented by José Ortega y Gasset. The generation of '27 brought back to poetry some of the glory it had enjoyed during the Golden Age. During the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, and their aftermath, there was little literary production, but after the wars, the realist novel and theatre have made the most significant contributions to Spanish literature..
In Latin America, at the time of the discovery, the travel journal was a popular form of literature, but creative writing did not really begin until the 19th century with the short story and the novel. Latin American literature in the late 19th century and early 20th reflected the movements in Spain and Europe. In the mid-20th century, Latin American literature experienced a "boom" with authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Today Latin American literary production continues to be important, and many women writers such as Isabel Allende, Elena Poniatowska, and Luisa Valenzuela have excelled in the short story and the novel.
As rapid communication shrinks world geography, the need for individuals who can communicate effectively in Spanish will continue to grow. Companies owned or operated by Spanish speakers are becoming known beyond their national borders and are expanding their markets worldwide. The need for well-trained Spanish majors who are proficient in the language skills and sensitive to cultural differences and who are willing to travel will increase.
Advice from a Spanish Professor
María Elena García Carullo
Assistant Professor of Spanish at Marymount College, Tarrytown, New York
offers this advice to prospective students:
What can a student expect during the course of study?
As a Spanish major, you will be expected to do a great deal of speaking. You will practice spoken Spanish on your own, with a partner, or in groups. This practice will help you make your ability to speak and respond automatic. The more you practice your expressions, the more automatically you will be able to call upon them when you need them.
What are the characteristics of a successful student?
I believe that unquestionably being conscientious is the most important characteristic of a successful student. Being conscientious means doing assignments thoroughly and on time, going beyond the assignment for independent research and study, persevering even when an assignment may seem repetitive and tedious.
What are some of the challenges facing this field?
With a continuing increase in the Spanish speaking population in some parts of the country, competition for jobs in Spanish is increasing. It is difficult to compete with native speakers of Spanish, but if you study Spanish conscientiously, you will have a well-rounded background which all native speakers may not have.
Also challenging are the rapid changes being brought to us by technology. These technological changes impact how we communicate and how Spanish will be taught and learned.
What makes this field exciting to you personally, and why do you love what you do?
Over five years ago I retired from a long career in the public schools as a Spanish teacher and foreign language department head. I had always dreamed of teaching Spanish, and it became a wonderful reality. Like all new retirees, I was looking forward to doing nothing. But, when I started to do nothing, I found I missed teaching Spanish. I was always enthusiastic about Spanish and about teaching, and I found there is nothing that can replace the joy and satisfaction of being in a classroom teaching Spanish. Nothing can replace the excitement of having a student understand the language and come to love it. And, I love teaching Spanish because I love my students: each one is different, each one learns in a different way, each one teaches me something. So, I started a whole new career teaching Spanish in college.
Follow these links to connect with a world of information about the field of Spanish!
To get a better idea of what to expect in class, follow these links of sample course syllabi from colleges around the country.