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Inaugural Portuguese class in the Summer Language Workshop at IU offers intensive learning in a family atmosphere

Aug. 10, 2016

The new Portuguese class offered by the School of Global and International Studies’ Summer Language Workshop felt more like a family gathering than a class.

Students leaned against the kitchen counter as Vania Castro, senior lecturer in IU’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, held out a pan covered in carefully spaced out pão de queijo, a Brazilian cheese bread rolled into balls.

students around table

Students practice Portuguese as they enjoy an informal meal together. | Photo By CHAZ MOTTINGER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

Castro spoke to them in Portuguese, pointing to the food and describing the ingredients. When she repeated a word, they repeated it back. She nodded and said "si" then popped the pan into the oven.

The class and the teacher laughed easily as they stirred up the tapioca flour and tasted the final product: a delicious chewy, salty and cheesy bread.

"The idea is not only sitting in the classroom and learning by going over your vocabulary, but also to be more holistic," Castro said. "Something that actually takes you outside of the classroom and brings Brazil to you."

From her seat at the head of the table in La Casa’s dining room, Castro talked with her students, who listened as they ate some of the just-baked treat. Castro explained that if they stopped by a friend’s house in Brazil they might be offered coffee to drink with their pão de queijo, or they could find it at breakfast or on a buffet.

For Ali Alsmadi, second-year graduate student in Spanish and Portuguese, learning about the language outside a classroom setting made the class more interesting and interactive.

"The experience of the language is extremely rich and helpful for students," he said. "You’re not just someone who receives the language or the instructions. We are actually agents to interact and experience the language in our way."

cooking demo

Senior lecturer Vania Castro demonstrates how to prepare pão de queijo, a Brazilian cheese bread. | Photo By CHAZ MOTTINGER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

It’s the first time Portuguese has been offered at the Summer Language Workshop, and just because they were cooking doesn’t mean the course was a cake walk.

Castro’s five students learned Portuguese over an intense eight weeks and were in class for 20 hours a week. They also engaged in a conversation section during which they spoke entirely in Portuguese twice a week. They completed homework online at home and had the chance to join in activities after class like watching movies, attending talks by IU faculty, meeting for coffee to chat in Portuguese or listening to Brazilian music.

Besides getting the taste of Brazil with baking, the students also learned songs in Portuguese to sing along with a capoeira demonstration, a Brazilian dance that mixes martial arts with acrobatics. They took yoga in Portuguese and wrote and performed a four-minute play entirely in the language. They acted out what it would be like to order food at a restaurant in Brazil with one student performing the part of the waiter while the other was a customer. The students also created video projects where they showed their classmates around their home, introduced them to their pets and explained what’s important to them.

While engaged in those activities, the students practiced their vocabulary, learning how to describe tastes, movements, body parts, objects and whatever else came up in conversation.

"We do a lot of talking every single day," Alsmadi said.

With all the chatting in Portuguese and the time the class spent together, the students and teacher really got to know one another over the eight weeks.

"I really like how small the class is," said Christina Ojeda, a 2015 graduate who decided to take the class over the summer in preparation for a trip to Brazil. "It’s very intimate. You get to know everyone very well."

"It’s super special when you’re teaching and you find a group that connects," Castro said. "That makes all the difference. Small groups like this are perfect because in two or three weeks they are already super close."

While the course was a lot of fun with many hands-on components, Castro said it takes an extremely committed student to handle the intensity of the summer workshop.

More information about the 12 languages offered through the Summer Language Workshops is available on the School of Global and International Studies website. The Summer Language Workshops were formerly called SWSEEL. 



The new summer language workshop aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including global engagement and a commitment to student success.

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