Increasingly at Montclair State University, se habla español. From working with media partners and training future digital storytellers to teaching Spanish to future law enforcement, health care and teaching professionals, Montclair’s students are learning Spanish specific to their chosen fields.
Senior Jurisprudence, Law and Society major Nayelis Fernandez credits the Spanish for Law Enforcement class with helping her during her summer internship with a law firm. “It gave me a lot of confidence,” she says.
“When I started school, I really wasn’t speaking Spanish outside of my home, so I thought the class would challenge me, especially since I want to become an immigration attorney,” says Fernandez, who has since been hired as a legal assistant at the firm where she interned. “Even though the class was specifically for law enforcement, more on the criminal side, I really learned a lot. It challenged me, and it helped me with writing and speaking better.”
Fernandez says the class, taught by adjunct professor Mayra Badillo, not only helped her learn legal terms in Spanish but also maintain a certain level of professionalism. “Professor Badillo challenged us to speak as though we were working for a police department, so we would have to practice giving speeches to the community,” she says, adding that she expects the class to continue to assist her as she moves toward her goal of becoming an immigration lawyer. “I want to be the voice for and help those people because they have no idea what the law is, and with immigration law, it’s constantly changing.”
Spanish for Law Enforcement is the most recent career-focused class added to the Spanish department’s roster, says Antonella Calarota-Ninman, Spanish language coordinator for the Spanish and Latino Studies department. There is also Spanish for Health Practitioners. Other classes, such as Spanish for Heritage Speakers, Spanish for Teachers and Spanish and International Business have been offered for some time; the latter by the Feliciano School of Business for many years.
While the department offers a robust roster of Spanish courses, including Negotiation Skills in Spanish, certificates in translation and interpreting and many classes for heritage speakers, Calarota-Ninman says she routinely tells students about the career-specific classes. “Imagine how useful it would be for you to satisfy a language requirement with a class that prepares you for your profession,” she says.
The Spanish for Law Enforcement class consists primarily of Justice Studies majors, says Badillo, a former lawyer in France and the Dominican Republic, who created the curriculum. She says her classes, numbering 30, consist of students interested in becoming police officers, lawyers and social workers. She presents them with real-life scenarios where they role-play and give people instructions in Spanish.
Badillo, who is married to a retired police officer, says speaking or understanding Spanish can mean the difference between life and death. “It’s important to speak Spanish when you are in the field of law enforcement.”
Adjunct professor Abigail Fana has Montclair Spanish courses to thank for her career at the University. Fana graduated with a BA in English, minors in Linguistics and Spanish and a certificate in Translation in 2020 and a master’s in Spanish and a certificate in Interpreting in 2022. While a teaching assistant working on her master’s, Fana started workshops where she led around 300 students per week in Spanish oral communication. Those workshops continue biweekly to this day with both professors and teaching assistants splitting duties.
When a Spanish professor left the University, Fana was asked to teach and has now taught Spanish I for three semesters. She’s also currently teaching Translation I while a professor is on sabbatical. While other opportunities have arisen, she is happy teaching Spanish I. “I feel like I can make a bigger difference teaching Spanish I and encouraging students, emphasizing how important it is, teaching them culture and things like that,” Fana says.
Fana also co-led the Spanish interpretation for Montclair’s first Spanish simulcast of Commencement this year with her friend Richard Solis ’23 MA, whose master’s is also in Spanish.
“There were good, positive reviews,” she says, noting that the three ceremonies racked up almost 6,000 views despite not being advertised. “This is really great because it was the first time that they had ever done this, and it really helped people because there are so many Hispanics,” she says. Fana is hoping for even more listeners during the 2024 Commencement, for which she will be interpreting.
Meanwhile, she and Solis are currently working on another first – translating the University’s website, beginning with the FAQ pages – “also a pretty big, important step,” she says.
In addition to the many course offerings by the Spanish and Latino Studies department, Montclair also has a Spanish journalism class, Reportando las Noticias. The class is unusual in that it is available to all majors.
“It’s open to the campus community, so anybody can take the class,” says Thomas Franklin, an associate professor in the School of Communication and Media. “No matter what your major is, what your area of interest is, and no matter what your language proficiency is, we welcome everybody.”
The class, which started in 2019 after two students pitched the idea, is offered in the spring semester. “The idea is that most people speak or understand some Spanish, and the competency in Spanish varies quite a bit,” says Franklin, who co-leads the class with a Spanish-language media professional. While much of the class is in English, “there was a good amount of Spanish spoken and instruction in both languages.”
Translation News Service
Also employing both English and Spanish is the NJ News Commons Spanish Translation News Service, a project of Montclair’s Center for Cooperative Media made possible through a $75,000 grant from New Jersey Civic Information Consortium (NJCIC). Now in its second year, the service provides translation of English-language news articles into Spanish for publication in Spanish-language publications.
The service was piloted with funding from the Democracy Fund and the NJCIC in 2020 prior to the presidential election with election-related content translated in Spanish to help increase “voter participation in the Latino community,” says Anthony Advincula, the ethnic and community media coordinator at the Center for Cooperative Media. It started with seven English- and Spanish-language media partners.
What the participating news organizations discovered, he says, is that there was value in translating other stories as well. “The Spanish-language news outlets don’t have the same resources that the mainstream media have to cover these stories,” Advincula says, “So, it became all types of stories – from breaking news to investigative news, rather than just election-related content.”
Today, the translation service boasts 12 English- and Spanish-language media partners. They include: NorthJersey.com, NJ Advance Media/NJ.com, Asbury Park Press, Press of Atlantic City, NJ Spotlight News/NJ PBS, Front Runner New Jersey, The Latino Spirit, New Jersey Hispano, Americano Newspaper, CATA Radio and Reporte Hispano.
“The main goal of this is really to narrow that information gap because we realize that there’s still language barriers in the Latino communities and a lack of nuanced and informed reporting from their language and perspective,” Advincula says.
New Jersey Hispano Editor Maricarmen Amado says the service has been helpful to her digital and print newspaper. “The stories have been prepared for larger newspapers with larger teams, resulting in stories with more depth,” she says, adding that the feedback from Spanish readers has been positive.
Given her journalistic background, Amado translates the stories. “It’s easy for me to understand and translate,” she says. “It’s not just translated but written in the way that Hispanics speak.”
The largest beneficiary of the translation services “is our community,” Amado says.