25 years of Spanish language at Massey

Massey University NEWS

“Chocolate, salsa, tango, chile, tequila, tacos and tomatoes! These words show that you already know some Spanish words, and that they are part of Kiwi culture,” says Associate Professor Leonel Alvarado, from the School of Humanities, Media and Creative Communications at Massey University.

“Spanish is not that difficult and if you can say ‘cho-co-late’ you’re already on your way — not only to learning Spanish, but also to enjoying it!” 

Since the Spanish programme started 25 years ago at Massey in 1996, students all around Aotearoa New Zealand have been enjoying and delighting on the mysteries of chocolate, originally a sacred Mayan and Aztec drink, and finding out that Spanish pronunciation is very similar to te reo Māori as both share a lot of basic sounds. 

The Hispanic world shares other cultural characteristics with Aotearoa New Zealand, such as rich indigenous cultures and historical links to Europe. 

“It would be impossible to have chocolate fish, avocado on toast and even fish ‘n' chips without some of the key ingredients that originated in Latin America!” Dr Alvarado says.

Food, language and cultural encounters, magical realism, travel writing, cinema and the intricacies of literary and technical translations are some of the interesting topics students have been learning about in the Massey programme since its inception. 

Dr Alvarado, programme coordinator, recalls that when he arrived at Massey in 2002, online teaching was practically non-existent so students and teachers communicated by writing and recording their voices on cassette tapes. 

“There were Pioneer cassettes flying all around New Zealand and the world with pieces of Latin American and Kiwi culture on them.” 

Since the beginning, staff on the programme have been actively involved in teaching Spanish to primary and high school teachers all over Aotearoa. As part of its community outreach, many activities – from film festivals to live music events – have been carried out with community libraries and the Spanish and Latin American embassies. 

The programme has also looked overseas to engage with other communities. “Some of our students and alumni have benefited from rich cultural immersion experiences by travelling to Colombia in 2018 and 2019,” says Dr Alvarado. 

These cultural activities were organised by the Spanish programme as part of the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Latin America’s scheme, in partnership with Latin American universities.

Since 2012 Massey has been teaching Spanish to Australian students through an agreement signed with the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, making this the largest online Spanish programme in Australasia.

Senior lecturer Colin Anderson, now retired, became the programme’s first teacher after learning Spanish in Spain. The programme now enjoys the expertise and passionate teaching of Dr Leonel Alvarado, from Honduras; senior lecturers Dr Celina Bortolotto, from Argentina, Dr José Díaz-Rodríguez, from Spain; and tutors Raquel Direnzo, from Argentina, Cynthia Landa, from Peru, and Francisco González, from Colombia.