Every year, Columbus High School Spanish teacher Liliana Velasco devotes a month of class time to preparing students for competition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Language Fair.
Now in its 40th year, the Language Fair is one of the longest-running high school competitions at UNL. It gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their foreign-language proficiency through competitive events in music, dance, speech or theater.
But for Velasco, it’s much more, which is why for the last 10 years she’s brought a busload of students to compete. This year, she brought 60 students, the most of any participating school.
“It is an opportunity to showcase their talent and to see the excitement from the other students who are also studying foreign language,” she said. “But it also gives them a deeper sense of the cultures where the language is used.”
Shannon Parry, Language Fair director and administrative assistant in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, said Velasco’s students are what Language Fair is all about; on April 14, about 1,300 students were immersed in various cultures through competitive events and language mini-sessions, conversation tables and study-abroad sessions.
“Language Fair gives high school students an opportunity to demonstrate not only their acquisition of a foreign language, but also the culture,” she said.
Velasco said once her students decide what events they want to do, they develop and hone those ideas and talk about how a particular dance, poem or piece of music fits into the wider culture.
“There are many events here, but whatever they decide to do, I want to make sure it is authentic because it gives me an opportunity to teach them about the culture,” she said. “When they stand up and perform, they take it very seriously. It’s not a joke. It’s someone else’s culture and they’ve learned about it, so they approach it with understanding and respect.”
Jess Humphrey, a Columbus High senior, said the preparation for Language Fair is different from the rest of the school year.
Humphrey said she and other Columbus students like to take in as many of the events from all the languages represented – German, Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese and Russian – because it is a chance to learn about the world beyond their community. And, after being able to interact with UNL faculty and students at Language Fair, she’s decided to attend UNL next year. She plans to continue her Spanish studies and pursue a pre-health degree.
“Throughout the year, we’re learning vocabulary and different language things, but it’s nice to get to experience different cultures outside of Columbus,” Humphrey said.