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College of Education > News and Publications > News: October - December 2013 > Learning the Language: Student Spends Summer in Ecuador Teaching English

Learning the Language: Student Spends Summer in Ecuador Teaching English

Tara Perpignan, a junior studying special education, spent her summer teaching English to students in Ecuador, which helped her become a better teacher.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Tara Perpignan, a College of Education senior studying special education, spent part of her summer in a Penn State English as a Second Language (ESL) immersion program. Perpignan spent about six weeks in Ecuador where she taught English as a part of a mini-school program. Perpignan also earned her ESL specialist certificate as a part of this experience.

Tara Perpignan in class with students in Ecuador“I took a teaching-ESL course in the fall of 2012, and became more curious about teaching these exceptional students,” said Perpignan. “After receiving an email about the ESL specialist certification program, I knew it was for me.”

Students in the program participated in a home-stay experience and hands-on classroom teaching, which, according to Perpignan, was everything she wanted in a study-abroad experience.

Perpignan said it was thrilling to see her students start to grasp the language, practice it with each other outside of class and even watch English television shows.

“Although my time in Ecuador was short, my students grew at an exponential rate,” said Perpignan. “On the first day of my teaching experience, my classroom of 12 students, whose ages ranged from 8 to 10 years old, was buzzing with the sounds of the Spanish language. But after a few weeks all I heard was English, which was a really proud moment as an ESL teacher.”

Perpignan went to Ecuador not knowing any Spanish, but she said all of the experiences that took her out of her comfort zone were important because they will help her better relate to her future ESL students.

Tara Perpignan poses with students in Ecuador“I can tell them that I have lived in another country and went not knowing the language,” said Perpignan. “I can tell them that I have gone to the grocery store and bought tomato paste instead of toothpaste, which happened and was horrible. I can tell them that I understand the emotions that they feel. But most importantly, I can tell them that it will pass, and language acquisition will occur at the right time.”

Perpignan said that getting her ESL specialist certification was appealing because of the number of English language learners in special education.

“I wanted to be as knowledgeable as possible in order to provide proper instruction for both types of learners,” said Perpignan. “Now that I have gained a knowledgeable background about teaching ESL, I can use that experience when I teach.”

As she approaches graduation, Perpignan said she is currently looking for jobs in special education and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). She will also return to Ecuador this summer to participate in a program called Camp English.

“My experiences in Ecuador have truly changed my life and molded me into the person and, most importantly, the teacher that I am today,” said Perpignan.

--by Kevin Sliman (October 2013)