Cuddeback, Lorraine V.



Name: Lorraine V. Cuddeback
Location of Study: Antigüeña, Spain
Program of Study: Antigüeña Spanish Academy


A brief personal bio:

I am third-year Ph. D. student in ND’s Moral Theology and Christian Ethics program, heading into my candidacy exams. My particular research interests include the Catholic social tradition and liberation theologies, especially from Latin America. I was born and raised in New Jersey, and completed the Masters of Divinity here, at Notre Dame, in 2012.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

My research plans include incorporating ethnographic fieldwork into theological discourse, which I want to justify using the discussions of the epistemic privilege of the poor in Latin American liberation theology. Much of the Latin American literature on this epistemic privilege is untranslated, so to really engage the ideas I need to know Spanish. Furthermore, several very important commentaries and episcopal conferences for the Catholic social tradition have come out of Latin America. Reading Spanish will allow me to engage these texts and keep in touch with new developments the application and reception of social encyclicals.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I hope to gain a strong reading proficiency in the Spanish language to help me engage the necessary texts for my exams and future dissertation project. However, a large part of understanding those texts is getting a feel for the cultures which they come from, hence immersion and speaking proficiency is extremely helpful. Having never studied spanish before, my goals for speaking and understanding the language ater five weeks are modest: I want to be able to have basic conversations about day-to-day experiences. My experience should serve as a foundation for me to continue further work in the language.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

By the end of the summer, I hope to: (1) be able to hold basic conversations with people on the experiences of daily life; (2) recognize tenses and grammatical forms easily enough to comprehend Spanish theological texts; and (3) gain enough competency in speaking, reading, and writing to audit an upper-level Spanish course.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I will maximize my experience my immersing myself in a homestay, where I’ll need to regularly practice my growing Spanish skills. I will also plan to do my best to work and study in public areas of Antigua — libraries, cafes, etc — so I can continue to practice my skills and watch the everyday life of the culture at work. I will plan to spend my weekends outsdie of class exposing myself to the culture through museums, tours (in Spanish!) and historical sites. I plan to use English as little as possible when speaking with both other students and the people of Antigua. Finally, I will bring several books with me in Spanish that I will work on reading with the help of my professors.


Reflective Journal Entry 1:

At three weeks into my immersion experience, I have a mixture of feelings about my language acquisition process. On the one hand, I hadn’t really studied Spanish at all when I arrived in Antigua, so there was really no place to go but up. On the other hand, the more I learn, the more grammatical constructs I need to keep track of, the more likely I am to drop one of the many proverbial balls in the air. And I do, frequently.

I was thinking about this today in particular on a trip I took with the daughter of my host family, Maria Louisa. Maria Louisa and I visited a convent of Poor Clares — the only one in Guatemala — and spent a couple of hours chatting with the sisters. In the course of the conversation, Maria Louisa explained that I had come to Antigua to study Spanish despite knowing nothing, and brightly commented that within a few days I was speaking with a marked increase in competency.

I was flattered by her words, but I also struggled to believe them. Living with a host family has been a key component of the immersion experience that supports my language learning, for which I’m grateful. Knowing that, my host family willingly listens to me stumble over words, and gently corrects me, and even patiently listens when I use the wrong tense because I just haven’t learned the pluperfect/future/subjunctive yet. However, it’s not the gaps in my grammar that I struggle with, it’s my neglect of the grammar I should know — I struggle to maintain noun-adjective agreement, and my grasp of prepositions is pretty vague. I often wonder if I’ll ever really get the difference between ‘por’ and ‘para.’

The Sisters of St. Clare asked me about this, about whether learning Spanish is the hardest language I’ve studied. I explained — in what I’m sure was the Spanish level of a small child — the frustrations named above: keeping track of my vocabulary, and of the little, pesky grammatical structures like noun-adjective agreement. The sisters (and Maria Louisa!) were very sympathetic. They commented that I try to speak very quickly, and I responded that I feel like I’m speaking very slowly!

But I think they have a point. I tend to barrel role into the language when I’m speaking, not really forming whole sentences ahead of time. I’m trying to mimic the sound and the pace of the language as I hear it around me, but it’s difficult, and probably not helpful when I’m still in such an early phase of learning. Over the next week I want to try to slow down my pace, and think in full sentences before I speak. We’ll see how this goes!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

My determination to speak more slowly failed to result in a consistent improvement in my language skills. This is likely because I wasn’t that successful at really slowing down, though I had moments where the language started to feel better, when casual conversation at least seemed easier and felt more coherent.

After a long hike up the nearby volcano Pacaya, myself, a fellow student studying in Guatemala, and another graduate student Chicago we met on the hike met for brunch at a local bakery. A fourth joined us — a friend of the student from Chicago, a native of Antigua. We spent the majority of the conversation in Spanish, though we all had drastically different skill levels: I was four weeks in, the other Notre Dame student was just one week in, the Chicago student had studied the language and lived in Bolivia for several months, and a native speaker. I was impressed by how much of the conversation could be in Spanish, especially as the newest speaker among us asked about common words and phrases.

We found ourselves discussing local idioms, actually — how “passar tiempo” is not an equivalent to the English “hang out,” and how people in Antigua refer to the nearby Guatemala City as simply “Guatemala.” These little phrases I’ve all had to pick up in my conversations with my host family, occasionally through my tutor. But I’m often nervous about using them, afraid that I’ve missed a connotation or misunderstood the idiom. Still, it was helpful to confirm some of these with a native speaker, and the practice over brunch definitely helped!

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

In my final week of studies, I found myself distracted — distracted by plans for my return to Notre Dame, and mostly, distracted by the impending World Cup! I still have some more verb tenses to learn, though my tutor and I made a valiant attempt to cover all of the subjunctive tenses in a matter of a few days.

The World Cup has made a pretty ideal cultural event to discuss with my host family. I’m a big soccer fan (I used to play in highschool), and the enthusiasm in Antigua was a welcome change from the lukewarm reception the World Cup gains in the US. Especially interesting is hearing with which teams local loyalties lie: Guatemala’s team didn’t qualify for a spot in this year’s World Cup, so there isn’t a national team to instinctively root for. Instead, there is a strong sense of pride for other Latinoamerican teams, especially if there is a team from Central America playing. Discussing the absence of the Guatemala team from the tournament also generated some interesting discussion about economics. My host family talked about Guatemala’s failure to qualify as a result of a lack of money — the central and south American teams that do qualify generally come from countries with a slightly better income (ie, Brazil, Argentina, Chile). It is unfortunately true that the powerhouse teams tend to come from rich countries.

Talking about the World Cup has also helped me engage other members of my host family, such as the father, who speak no English. I’m just now at the point where I know the majority of my verb tenses, and the vocabulary for a soccer game is easy to share in common in conversation. Although, after the Spain-Holland game, my host father and I had some disagreement about whether the problem was Spain’s defense or Holland’s excellent offense (regardless, it was a disappointing 1-5 loss for Spain fans)!

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Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: