A language-learning start-up forges ties | Binghamton University Research News


The spark of inspiration behind Marisol Marcin’s business concept occurred in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As academia has adapted to connecting virtually in the classroom, the Binghamton University speaker acknowledged that she already knows how to leverage video conferencing to help students develop natural language acquisition.

When Marcin was working in the Department of Romance Languages ​​and Literatures at Binghamton, she developed a partnership with Caro y Cuervo Institute in Colombia, a prestigious center of language, philology and linguistics which offers several masters. Through this partnership, students from both universities had the opportunity to converse: Binghamton students practiced their language and Caro y Cuervo students experienced speaking Spanish as a foreign language. When these Colombian grad students connected virtually with their Binghamton student peers, she saw how conversations flowed naturally.

“I really believe the best way to learn a language is to use it, and it’s about being creative in using technology to connect people,” says Marcin, who holds a master’s degree in integration of technology in the classroom from Walden University and a Ph.D. Binghamton’s Translation Research and Education Program. “Language is for use. It’s not about how many questions you can answer correctly or how many words you have memorized. Not everyone is destined to become a grammarian.

As one of the members of the committee responsible for revising the New York State standards for world languages, Marcin is aware of the urgent need for language instructors in public schools. She created Language club (which translates to Languages ​​Club) in hopes of helping current teachers achieve their teaching goals while increasing student skills. Its program uses technology to immerse students in the Spanish language and culture by involving them in small group virtual conversation sessions led by a native speaker from Instituto Caro y Cuervo.

Marcin, a lecturer in the Global Studies program, got strategic advice on business viability when she went through the Binghamton Acceleration Program, offered by the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships Department of the Research Department. She then participated in National Science Foundation I-Corps Regional Program to determine potential customers and explore business models at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator in downtown Binghamton.

This semester, less than two years after the initial concept, Lenguas Club is in its first pilot run with high school students in the Binghamton City School District.

“So far, I’m pleased with the results we’re seeing in these classrooms,” says Alice Kiereck, director of the district’s ELA, ENL, and World Languages ​​department for grades 6-12. “Marisol’s extensive knowledge of New York State’s global language standards has been an asset as we create a program that will best serve students.”

Getting secondary school students to really talk Spanish has always been one of the department’s biggest obstacles, Kiereck says. “At first there was some hesitation about the amount of speaking required in this program,” she adds. “However, the instructors were patient and encouraging, and the students became more comfortable engaging in the work.”

The district chose to test a three-day program, which offers a conversation club, language lab, bi-weekly deep dives, program alignment and assessment reports. On days when students don’t have virtual meetings, they work with their teacher to deepen their language learning. As the business grows, Marcin hopes to offer languages ​​other than Spanish and English and envisions future users to include individuals and businesses.

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