Students in an intermediate Spanish class at the nation's newest university are producing Internet podcasts in Spanish on health issues for the Latino community.

Maria Ciriza-Lope, associate professor of Spanish at the University of North Texas at Dallas, says the relatively new technology is great for helping students learn the language because it has a dual purpose. Hopefully they will equip Hispanics with more information about health issues, and because the students listen to themselves speaking, they will work to improve their Spanish.

"They love it because they think it is authentic," Ciriza-Lope said. "They are learning a lot about their own health—about what they should do and what they should not do—and also about the Latino community."

Math major Wendy Williams is producing a podcast on hypertension in Hispanics because many of them have high blood pressure but do not get treated as often as other citizens. "They don't get the medical care, and we need to raise awareness and let them know what needs to be done about it because it can be serious," Williams said.

Michael Sizemore, a junior radio/TV/film major at UNT in Denton, worked on a podcast on pregnancy among Hispanic teenagers. He said he was going to focus on "why they become pregnant at such an early age and how we can raise awareness for that, educating them on what we can do to stop teenage pregnancy among Latin teenagers." He was going to suggest that they advocate for safe sex in schools and raise awareness about the dangers of pregnancies, but Ciriza-Lope suggested he find a less controversial topic.

Sizemore said he likes the Spanish class. "It might be my favorite class to go to. There's a lot of interaction, and I'm not used to that in my Spanish classes."

Williams said she likes Ciriza-Lope and the class, but recording the podcasts scares her to death because of her poor Spanish. "I don't want it to sound bad on the Internet. I'm learning a lot. [Now] I can understand my friends a lot more than I used to."

Williams is taking the Spanish IV class because she is getting a math degree and one day hopes to teach. "I'll have a lot of Hispanic students, I'm sure."

"I'm kind of excited," Sizemore said about preparing the podcasts. "I'm an intern at The Ticket, Sports Radio 1310 AM, so I'm used to dealing with audio and working with that kind of stuff."

Podcasts have been around since 2004. The term refers to audio recordings found on the Internet and comes from IPod and broadcast, though you can listen to them on any computer or digital audio player. Ciriza-Lope found free podcast-creating software on the Internet and then helped her students record their scripts onto their laptop computers. "It is very easy," she said. "You just need a microphone."

She expects to have her students re-record the audio several times in upcoming classes to improve their translations. "They have to be perfect." Then they will edit the files and add music, and when completed, she plans to load them and more in future classes onto a new Web site Ciriza-Lope plans to title "Salute en Dallas," which means "Health in Dallas."

"I will probably need doctors or nurses to monitor it so that we are not saying anything that is outrageous."

Ciriza-Lope started producing podcasts in her classes when she was on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin Eau Clair. The podcasts are an extension of her first two loves.

She is a native of the Basque country of Spain, "a little region in the north up in the mountains," she explained. "It's really beautiful, but there are no jobs there." Since she was a little girl, she was interested in medicine.

"I think I've always been interested in biology and anatomy and how the body functions and symptoms of diseases, but it is really hard to get into medicine in Spain. You need an A average, and I was not an A average."

Her parents invested a lot of money taking her and her brother and sister abroad and leading them to study foreign languages since they were 12 years old. Now her brother is an engineer in France, and her sister lives in the Mediterranean.

She came to the United States 10 years ago to earn a master's degree, and she thought she would only stay two years. During those first two years at the University of Illinois in Champagne, she was contacted by Hablamos Juntos (We Speak Together), an organization dedicated to improving the availability and quality of health services for Spanish-language patients. They asked her to critique the quality of Spanish-translated health materials.

Ciriza-Lope was thrilled when she realized that she could use her love of medicine and her expertise in Spanish to help healthcare organizations translate materials into Spanish. "What I like in the U.S. is that you can do whatever you want. With my linguistic training, I didn't know how to apply both things. Suddenly when that came, I thought, 'Wow, this is something I can do and apply both of my interests.'"

After getting a Ph.D., she joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin Eau Clair and was contacted again by Hablamos Juntos to do more formal training. She was trained to make sure that health materials use a more-generic dialect so that patients get the nuances, she said.

Ciriza-Lope said she has loved her first year on the faculty at UNT Dallas, in part because the students are very humble and passionate about what they learn. "I like that it's still a small school and everybody knows each other. I think that because we are a young faculty, people are really passionate about what they are doing and they are applying new methodologies in the classroom."

She hopes one day to work on some kind of project helping nurses with translations or training them. "I would love to do something that implies helping the community." That possibility only grows as the need for interpreters grows around the nation.


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