Inspiring Language Learners through Competition

    Sheri Spaine Long explains how the U.S.’s largest academic contest incentivizes Spanish students year after year

    For over 60 years, AATSP’s National Spanish Examinations (NSE) have offered students enrolled in Spanish an opportunity to participate in the U.S.’s largest academic contest. The NSE promotes language proficiency, assesses performance according to the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, stimulates further interest in language study, and motivates Spanish language students in secondary and middle schools. The NSE contest is a program of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) and is an approved contest by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The contest is administered annually in the spring term. In 2021, the contest expanded to include younger learners with an elementary-level version called the National Spanish Challenge (NSC). The contests are available to learners whose sole Spanish-language experience is in school as well as those who have had experience with Spanish at home, in their communities, or abroad.

    During a typical year, the contest includes 150,000 students. Not surprisingly, during the last two pandemic years, the contest did not reach the prepandemic number of students. However, the students who were able to participate during the pandemic displayed the same sense of achievement as students in other years. For example, Spanish teacher Stella Muñoz shares that recently graduated Spanish student Olivia Marrero from Jackson High School, Massillon, Ohio, took the NSE for the last three years and had silver medal placement in 2021. She is attending the Ohio State University as an Eminence Fellow and Stamps Scholar this fall. Olivia shares that she is excited to continue as she minors in Spanish and Latin American studies at university. According to Olivia, “Spanish has not only been an amazing challenge for me, but it has opened many doors and allowed for the creation of lifelong relationships. I can’t wait to dive deeper into Latin American language and culture, as each country has something special to offer and explore. No matter where I end up, Spanish will be an important addition to my career and life as a future environmental chemist.” Spanish teacher Alondra Pacheco of the University School in Cleveland, Ohio, talks about Spanish student Varun Tamaskar, who is now a senior and has been studying Spanish for five years. He earned a gold medal and second place in the state of Ohio for the Level 4 NSE. This school year, Varun will be his chapter’s Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (SHH) president. He looks forward to developing community engagement projects that will help promote Hispanic/Latino culture.

    How Are NSE and NSC Students Recognized?
    Students can earn medals in Oro (Gold), Plata (Silver), and Bronce (Bronze) and ribbons that display outstanding personal achievement and add to their school’s profile. Students also receive certificates, no matter their placement, for participation. NSE Spanish teachers receive accolades for outstanding students as well as detailed data about student performance to help improve student learning. Students beginning in the eighth grade can also compete for scholarships and educational language-immersion opportunities through the NSE. Immersion may include travel abroad to destinations in Latin America and Spain or scholarships to Concordia Language Villages. During the pandemic, virtual immersion options have been available. NSE teachers can also compete for travel and stipend opportunities.

    The AATSP’s new NSE director and long-time supporter of the NSE contest Lisa Greenman states that for over a decade the NSE exams have inspired and encouraged her own students to further their language learning. For example, every single eighth-grade student who took the NSE challenge last year is currently continuing their language learning in high school. Students, when asked why they took the NSE, gave reasons such as reconfirming language skills, the opportunity of awards, and the thrill of competition.

    To learn more, go to aatsp.org or contact NSE director Lisa Greenman at [email protected].

    Sheri Spaine Long is executive director of the AATSP.

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