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Inspiring language learners through competition

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For more than 60 years, the AATSP National Spanish Examinations (NSE) have offered students enrolled in Spanish the opportunity to participate in the largest college competition in the United States. The NSE promotes language proficiency, assesses performance against the world’s readiness standards for language learning, stimulates interest in language study, and motivates Spanish-speaking students in secondary and middle schools. The NSE competition is a program of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) and is a competition approved by the National Association of High School Principals. The competition is administered each year in the spring term. In 2021, the competition expanded to include young learners with an elementary-level version called the National Spanish Challenge (NSC). The competitions are aimed at learners whose only experience of the Spanish language is at school as well as those who have had some experience of Spanish at home, in their community or abroad.

In a typical year, the competition brings together 150,000 students. Unsurprisingly, in the last two years of the pandemic, the competition has not reached the prepandemic number of students. However, students who were able to participate during the pandemic displayed the same sense of accomplishment as students in other years. For example, Spanish teacher Stella Muñoz recounts that Olivia Marrero, a recently graduated Spanish student from Jackson High School, Massillon, Ohio, has passed the NSE for the past three years and earned a silver medal in 2021. She attends Ohio State University as an Eminence. Fellow and Stamps Scholar this fall. Olivia shares that she is excited to continue her high school education in Spanish and Latin America at university. According to Olivia, “Spanish has not only been an incredible challenge for me, but it has opened many doors and allowed for the creation of lasting relationships. I can’t wait to dive deeper into the Latin American language and culture, because every country has something special to offer and to explore. No matter where I find myself, Spanish will be an important addition to my career and my life as a future environmental chemist. Spanish teacher Alondra Pacheco from University School in Cleveland, Ohio, talks about Spanish student Varun Tamaskar, who is now in his final year and has been studying Spanish for five years. He won a gold medal and a runner-up in Ohio State for the NSE Level 4. This school year, Varun will be the president of the Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (SHH) of his chapter. 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 demonstrate outstanding personal achievement and add to their school’s profile. Students also receive certificates, regardless of their placement, for their participation. NSE Spanish teachers receive accolades for outstanding students as well as detailed student performance data to help improve student learning. Students starting in eighth year can also compete for scholarships and language immersion educational opportunities through the NSE. Immersion can include trips abroad to destinations in Latin America and Spain or scholarships to Concordia Language Villages. During the pandemic, virtual immersion options were available. SNG teachers can also compete for travel and compensation opportunities.

AATSP’s new NSE Director and longtime NSE competition supporter Lisa Greenman says that for more than a decade, the NSE exams have inspired and encouraged her own students to continue learning languages. For example, every eighth grade student who took the NSE challenge last year is currently continuing their language learning in high school. When asked why they took the NSE, students gave reasons such as reconfirmation of language skills, the possibility of rewards and the thrill of competition.

To find out more, visit aatsp.org or contact Lisa Greenman, Director of NSE at [email protected].

Sheri Spaine Long is Executive Director of AATSP.

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