Language amities break through the language barrier


Taylor Blad

Mr. Javier Fernández Albar of Spain presents a PowerPoint on Spanish culture to eager participants in a second hour Spanish class. With two amities coming from Spanish speaking countries and one with an extensive knowledge of French, the goal of these assistants is to make BSM students more aware of other cultures and develop a greater knowledge of foreign languages.

Each year, young teachers come from all over the world to be a part of BSM’s Amity teacher assistant program, where students in world language classes experience a bit of help from native speakers of their respective languages. This year there are three assistants at BSM: in French classes is Ms. Elvire Kakou from Switzerland, and helping out the Spanish unit are Ms. Lucía Delbene from Uruguay and Mr. Javier Fernández Albar from Spain.


All three began to aid their respective foreign language classes at the start of second semester.

Ms. Mary Murray, Spanish teacher and Amity coordinator at BSM, is among the language teachers who benefit from the program. “[The Amities] serve as pronunciation models in the classrooms, so it’s nice for us teachers to have somebody to help us do those oral assessments. They also teach about their culture, whether it is food, dance, religion, or what their government is like. Hearing them and speaking with them is great practice,” Ms. Murray said.

The Amity Program, based in California, has had a successful relationship with BSM for about 20 years. “It is a tradition; we’ve probably had over 50 amities come here in the last 20 years. We’ve had a lot from France, but we have Elvire who has an African-French relationship. We’ve had people from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and all over,” Ms. Murray said.

The requirements to be an Amity assistant consist of an academic background check, knowing enough English to satisfy the role of classroom teaching and interpretation, and being between 21 to 30 years of age. Mr. Albar is 22, while Ms. Delbene and Ms. Kakou are both 27.

Each Amity assistant resides with a program-approved family who volunteers to house them at no cost, usually for close to six months. The cost for BSM to have each Amity assistant teach second semester is roughly $2,500; $1,000 is paid directly to Amity for each assistant to be at the school, a daily $5 lunch for each assistant, as well as a $150 monthly paycheck.

Whilst there are four languages offered at BSM, including the new Chinese program, there are no plans to have an Amity assistant for either Chinese or Latin classes in the foreseeable future. “With some of the issues happening between China and U.S, some Chinese Amities’ visas might not allow them to stay for the whole second semester,” Ms. Murray said.

Junior Rachel Conley and her family has been host to Amities since 2008, and they are continuing that streak this year by housing Ms Kakou. “I gain a lot of cultural experience,” Conley said. “I learn a ton about the cultures they are from and a lot about language. I also get tons of help in my French classes and doing my French homework.”

Conley enjoys hosting Amities and develops close relationships with the assistants she houses. “I hang out with [Ms. Kakou] a lot. She is still relatively new to the U.S. and hasn’t established a friend group. Luckily, we have a ton of similar interests and I really enjoy hanging out with her,” Conley said.

Ms. Kakou has only been in Minnesota for a few weeks, but already has a jam-packed schedule. “I have done many fun activities, including nordic skiing. I usually visit the area on the weekends, and in the summer, when it gets warmer, I plan to go see sights,” Ms. Kakou said.

Being a native speaker of their respective languages, each Amity assistant brings high-quality knowledge to the classroom in order to develop the skills of students. “I teach in levels one through five, so of course the students in level five are much more proficient than those in level one,” Ms. Kakou said. “But I am impressed with the level of enthusiasm that level one students bring to class, even if they don’t know much vocab or grammar.”