Foreign Language Music Day spices up learning with music, dancing

March 9 2007

Can learning to dance the salsa help students grasp the Spanish language? Spanish instructor and Columbia-native Lucy Campbell says, "Si!"

After pronunciation practice and a vocabulary lesson, to the tune of current Top 40 Latin music, Indiana State University students in Campbell's 100- and 200-level Spanish classes learned traditional Hispanic dances, such as the salsa and merengue, as part of Foreign Language Music Day on Feb. 21.

Learning a language is not just about vocabulary and grammar, says Campbell. It's about understanding the people who speak it and the culture in which it's used.

"The Spanish language has a rhythm to it, and that rhythm is in our blood and in our music," Campbell said. "By turning on some popular Hispanic music, getting them out of their seats and teaching them to move in the way that is traditional to our culture, the students can pick up the rhythm of that culture, which is something you can't teach through a textbook."

More than 600 foreign language students participated in Foreign Language Music Day at Indiana State, and learned how a culture’s music has a connection to the study of the language.

“The integration of culture into our foreign language classes is nothing new for us, but the concerted effort to have a common focus on the same day, in all foreign language classes and at all levels, with the goal of creating an energy on campus about language, is new,” said Lisa Calvin, associate professor of Spanish and coordinator of Basic Studies for Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. "Knowing another language opens doors into a foreign culture that remain closed without the access that language offers."

The day was planned as part of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' Discover Languages Month.

All of the foreign language classes participated in some way. Students studying Mandarin looked at the difference between how emotions are expressed in Chinese vs. American pop music; and a French class talked about the grammatical structure of the classic song "Frere Jacque," and students rewrote the song’s key question — "Are you sleeping?" — using other the permissible options of French syntax.

Graduate assistants created "posterettes" and hung them in the hallways of Root Hall, to emphasize the importance of knowing a foreign language. These bilingual sheets in English with Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese or Spanish provided language fun facts that connect language study to its use outside of the classroom and university environment.

The posterettes aimed to boost knowledge of and appreciation for other languages, Calvin said. For example, one posterette exclaimed that coffee, zero, giraffe and zenith are Arabic words; and another revealed that the second most frequently taught language in the world is French.

"In our global society, knowing a second language is highly desirable," Calvin said. "Our philosophy in Languages, Literatures and Linguistics is 'Major in anything, Minor in a language.' Knowing a second language gives college graduates that extra competitive edge when they start off on their career path."

L’oreal Williams, a sophomore Spanish major from Gary, learned Spanish at a young age in order to communicate with her neighbor.

“When I was growing up, there was a little girl who lived across the street from me and she was my friend, but she didn’t speak English. I learned Spanish so that I could talk to her,” Williams said.

Williams continues to enhance her Spanish skills in college, so that in her career, she can communicate with those she wants to help.

“Since I was a freshman in high school, I have wanted to be a doctor. I love to help people and I love children, as well,” Williams said. “I would like to combine my passions together, along with my Spanish skills, and be a pediatric cardiologist in a Spanish-speaking country.”

With Hispanics being the largest minority in the United States, at an estimated population of 41.3 million, Williams hasn’t had to leave the country to draw on her language skills. During an internship with Walt Disney World last summer, Williams found that most of the people she worked with spoke Spanish as a first language.

“When I realized this and started speaking with them in Spanish, there was such a change in our relationship,” Williams said. “They were much more comfortable with me and I was able to interact much more effectively with my co-workers and even Spanish-speaking guests who came to the park.”


L’oreal Williams and Courtney Reese
Students in instructor Lucy Campbell’s Spanish 201 class learn the salsa as part of Foreign Language Music Day. Getting the hang of it are L’oreal Williams of Gary, sophomore Spanish major; and Courtney Reese of Fort Wayne, junior pre-business/accounting major. (Tony Campbell/ISU)

Lucy Campbell, ISU Spanish instructor
Lucy Campbell, ISU Spanish instructor and Columbia native, explains to students that the Spanish language has a rhythm to it, and that music and dance are connected with the language and the Hispanic culture. (Tony Campbell/ISU)

Students learn the merengue
After some instruction, students in Lucy Campbell’s Spanish 201 class are dancing the traditional Hispanic dance, the merengue. (Tony Campbell/ISU)

CONTACT: Lisa Calvin, associate professor of Spanish and coordinator of Basic Studies for Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, Indiana State University, (812) 237-2363 or

WRITER: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or

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Story Highlights

More than 600 foreign language students participated in Foreign Language Music Day at Indiana State, and learned how a culture's music has a connection to the study of the language.

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