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Responding to social justice issues with a new language

June 19, 2009

Ana Solano and her two colleagues at Costa Rica´s National University, Nuria Villalobos and Olga Chávez, saw an opportunity to put English language learning to good use.

Instead of confining the curriculum to the four-walled classrooms of their campus in Heredia, north of San José, the professors assigned their students projects that would help connect social justice issues in Costa Rica to the English-speaking world.

Over the course of four months, students visited crumbling schools, needy animal shelters and other nonprofit agencies and filmed scenes of problems they saw. They collaborated on a project to help alleviate existing situations, meanwhile collecting scenes they would use in a video of their efforts.

“We wanted to figure out how to use language to do good,” said Solano, who explained that while “social responsibility” has entered into the curricula of other schools like public relations or business, it is still a relatively new concept to the language department.

She plans to attend a language studies conference in Brazil in the coming months to share the video project with other language professors.

“There are so many problems that exist all around us,” said Villalobos. “With the need to learn English and the desire to fix (those problems)…our objective was simple: To unite the two.”

With simple software and point-and-shoot cameras, students were able to dig deep into the issues that plagued the communities they visited. They solicited donations from nearby businesses, involved community members and were able to bring further awareness to the issues through their 10 minute videos.

“Students responded very positively and many want to continue with their project,” said Villalobos.

More about the student´s projects can be found at their Web site: http://sites.google.com/site/thinkshareact/

To view the students´ videos, follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/user/ThinkShareAct

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