K. Bethea García (standing) teaches a lesson in conjugating Spanish verbs to her diverse group of traditional and nontraditional students at Old Dominion University’s Batten Arts & Letters Building.

Photo by Justin K. Thomas

How K. Bethea García teaches a second language to nontraditional college students

By Justin K. Thomas

June 28, 2017

Educating college students from various cultural and demographic backgrounds is part skill and part refinement, according to K. Bethea García, a Lecturer of Spanish at Old Dominion University. This sentiment is the same for nontraditional students or pupils that are most often over the age of 24.

“Teaching is 25 percent science and 75 percent art and craft,” said García. “The finesse and system of educating are much more meaningful to the learner. Using this way of teaching is how the instructor delivers the content so that the student can master the material.”

Learning a second language help builds confidence, strengthen analytical skills and even helps with understanding different societies, García said.

“We are all subject to mistrust and a certain level of fear of things that are different,” she said. “Learning a second language helps create more positive attitudes toward those that are different. Research has proven that being linguistically diverse aids in general problem-solving skills and helps with memory functions.”

García said she ensures her Spanish lesson plans are creative so that all her students can learn effectively while taking into consideration a nontraditional student's level of knowledge in Spanish.

“Students learn by engaging through auditory, visual and kinesthetic means,” she said. “An effective educator will engage all the senses in every lesson, and I definitely consider the nontraditional student’s understanding of the language when planning teaching modules.”

K. Bethea García (standing) shares a Spanish joke with her diverse group of traditional and nontraditional students at Old Dominion University’s Batten Arts & Letters Building prior to conducting an exam.

Photo by Justin K. Thomas

In addition to taking methods of instructing Spanish into consideration, García said that she tries to bond on a humanistic level with all her students.

“Connecting with the students by relating to circumstances and situations they are familiar with is a great approach,” García said. “I will make a joke now and again with nontraditional students that the ‘youngins’ might not grasp thereby increasing the nontraditional students’ want to interact more in class. The traditional students find it pretty neat to learn something new in addition to learning Spanish.”

García did stipulate by saying that there really isn’t a difference in the learning ability of nontraditional students compared to traditional students, but at times nontraditional pupils can find it difficult on a subconscious level to learn a new language.

“[When compared to all my students] there are no better or worse students,” she said. “Occasionally I’ll have a nontraditional student who will initially feel overwhelmed using technology in the classroom, but that quickly becomes a moot point. The biggest issue facing nontraditional students is overcoming their self-defeating preconceptions such as ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m not smart enough’ and ‘I can’t do it.’ Once the student overcomes these types of common negative thoughts and commits to the process of second language acquisition, nontraditional students often outperform their traditional counterparts.”

Always being cognizant of the on-goings of her classroom, If García notices a student seeming to have problems with the material, she immediately tries to find a solution, she said.

“If a nontraditional student is having trouble–which is rare–I will communicate with them individually to find out what’s going on,” García said. “With adult students, they are often juggling obligations that many traditional students do not have to worry about such as child care, work schedules, and balancing financial commitments. These responsibilities can have an impact on their studies, and that’s why I try to be reasonable in understanding those concerns.”

As to giving advice to current and potential nontraditional students of any institution of higher learning, García said that maintaining a good line of communication with his or her professor and making sure their academic records are in proper order are paramount to a successful educational journey.

“My advice for current nontraditional students is: ‘Your past experiences are an asset, but your motivation and commitment will determine your accomplishment,’” she said. “Prepare to overcome your self-doubt and take whatever steps you need to learn your course material by talking to your professor, form or join a study group or find a tutor. I would also suggest that potential nontraditional students carefully review and assess their academic credits. Many times, credits from other universities cannot be transferred to a student's current degree plan, and that can pose a problem for graduating at a specific time.”