No one knows this better than Christopher Ortega, who, despite growing up speaking the language with his family of Mexican immigrants, benefited from participating in a Spanish immersion and traveling with new-made friends in Cuba.
Christopher, who is blind, originally found the Cuban program through the University at Albany where he was completing his undergraduate work. Looking through the program offerings, Cuba seemed like the most interesting option, given his fascination with recent political history between the Castro government and the United States.
Most language course work focuses on visual input as the main tool for teaching language. Students practice vocabulary by identifying pictures in the target language. Cultural curriculum focuses on the visual arts or landscapes. Exams ask students to match categories in corresponding lists.
Blind or visually impaired people benefit from language study in the same way as sighted students, but there are some key differences in the way that they learn. A multisensory approach to language teaching can help shift to a more inclusive environment.
Most mornings of her Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program in India, Esha Mehta would wake early and catch a rickshaw with her roommate to her Hindi classes. The morning she remembers most, however, happened at sunrise while on an excursion to Pushkar in Rajasthan, India. Mehta, who is blind and an avid hiker, joined others from the American group to hike to an old temple. Dressed in traditional Indian clothes, Esha trusted her feet, as she usually does, to guide her along the rocky way and up many stairs.
“When we got to the top, it was really beautiful. My friend Nicole was tracing my hand along the horizon as the sun was rising and telling me what it looked like. Then I asked everyone to stop talking and to experience nature with their eyes closed, just listening to the birds and other sounds.” For Esha this type of interpersonal exchange creates an opportunity to educate and learn; something that occurred frequently on her U.S. Department of State-sponsored CLS program.
His bags were packed, his passport and flight tickets were in hand, but three days before he was to fly into Beijing, Nathan Liu still didn’t have a confirmed host family on his high school study abroad program. He hadn’t considered that the delay could have something to do with his being blind until a friend raised the question: “Are some countries more accessible than others?”
After months of getting ready for his language immersion experience in China, Nathan was taken aback by the possibility that perhaps China wasn’t ready for him.
During the summer, I had the opportunity to study English at the American English Institute (AEI) at the University of Oregon through a joint scholarship from Mobility International USA (MIUSA) and AEI. My experience was wonderful; the staff and teachers were extremely kind and I met classmates from Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
In the beginning, I had to overcome many challenges, the first one being the language, because my English knowledge was scarce.
On a typical evening, I pour a cup of coffee and follow the contours of the counter until I reach a cash register. I pay by meal card, and walk back to the dorm lobby where one of my students is waiting. We have a study session tonight, and my job is to explain how to use comparative forms of Russian adjectives. If this sounds like an everyday routine for a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), it is. Unless, of course, the teaching assistant is blind, and traveled to the United States from Russia for the first time on the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright program.