NEWS | Oct. 3, 2012

In and outside the classroom, Wisconsin Guard members immerse themselves in Spanish

By Staff Sgt. Tiffany Addair Wisconsin National Guard

The Wisconsin Army National Guard Military Engagement Team members journeyed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a two-week language immersion program at Institute for Second Language Acquisition, Inc., (I.S.L.A.) Sept. 9.

The MET, a 12-person rotational team of subject matter experts, went to learn Spanish for future trips to Nicaragua, as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program. Those visits will begin with fact gathering, and progress to making recommendations to the Nicaraguan military regarding natural and manmade disaster response efforts.

The State Partnership Program just celebrated its 20th year of building civil-military relationships through partnerships between U.S. states, territories, the District of Columbia and foreign countries. Currently, 48 U.S. states, two territories and the District of Columbia are partnered with 62 countries around the world, to include the Wisconsin-Nicaraguan partnership.

In 2003 the Wisconsin National Guard formally partnered with the Republic of Nicaragua in the SPP, and every year about eight to 10 meetings in both Wisconsin and Nicaragua take place, expanding Nicaragua's capabilities in several critical areas.

I.S.L.A., Inc. focuses on conversational Spanish. When the Soldiers arrived at the school they were individually evaluated to see how much Spanish they knew so they could be put into the correct class level.

"We give them an oral evaluation to see where there are at and if they understand what I am asking them, if they can respond and how comprehensive or complete and so forth," said Sacha Delgado, director of I.S.L.A., Inc.

"Then based on their responses, we place them in one of the six levels that we work with and each level has a set definition in terms of what it covers."

The Soldiers attended daytime classes at I.S.L.A., Inc., located outside of the tourism area to maximize their learning experience and expose them to more Spanish. In addition to the structured classes and cultural experiences, the school coordinates with local host families to house students during their course.

"We are the only language school in Puerto Rico that offers an immersion program, where students come in from abroad and stay with host families,"

Delgado said. "It maximizes [students'] learning experiences because they have to think and study Spanish in the classroom, do homework and communicate with their family."

The schoolhouse provided the Soldiers with basic knowledge and conversational aspects of learning Spanish, but being in Puerto Rico and experiencing the day-to-day cultural greatly enhanced the training experience for the MET.

"Being exposed to the language and the cultural all the time helps you pick it up more," said Sgt. 1st Class Culley J. Popma, 64th Troop Command readiness non-commissioned officer. "It will be helpful to us when we go down to Nicaragua for the rest of our mission."

Popma plans to use Rosetta Stone to build off of what he learned in Puerto Rico so he can become more fluent by the time the team visits Nicaragua.

Maj. Robert J. Buettner, MET officer-in-charge, said this training is a great opportunity and will enhance opportunities to deepen the relationship between the Wisconsin Army National Guard and the Nicaraguan military members with whom they will closely work.

"It is important for us to gain as much information and knowledge on the language and culture so that when we do go to Nicaragua and start working with our counterparts and the senior leaders we show them respect by speaking their language in their own country," Buettner said. "The MET team will be evolving every year depending on the wants and needs of the Nicaraguan government so we will need to continue language training as the team evolves to progress our skills and continue to build our relationship with Nicaragua."