Learning the Language

Victor Zabala once lived the lifestyle of a bullfighter in Spain. He began bullfighting at the age of 19, following the dynasty of his grandfather and two uncles. Zabala performed in all parts of Spain, as well as countries including Portugal, France, Ecuador and Mexico.

“When you are a professional it becomes very competitive,” Zabala said. “It’s difficult, and at the same time it is a business. If you are successful, people want to see you and the organizer calls on you to perform so you can win more money. It becomes an artist’s life.”

Zabala said training is an important part of becoming successful. Training is usually done at a ranch in Spain where they practice techniques with live bulls.

Zabala, now 28, lives in Tampa and is a third-level student in the English Language Institute program at USF. He is one of 165 students in the program that represents 35 different countries. The program helps students, whose first language is not English, develop their skills in English as well as academic skills through a conversational partner. Students wishing to learn another language besides English may also participate in ELI, while learning the culture of a fluent speaker of the language.

Students such as Zabala attend classes at USF Monday through Friday, 25 hours a week. They spend five hours a day learning about the English language, grammar, study skills, computer skills and American culture. Additional hours are spent each day in the classroom preparing for academic tests such as the Standard Academic Test, Graduate Record Exams and Test of English as a Foreign Language.

Students also spend time at home preparing for these tests, class presentations and writing academic papers.

The students enrolled in the ELI program take classes each semester at four levels: basic, low-intermediate, high-intermediate and advanced. The goal of ELI is to prepare students to enter a university and be successful in any degree program.

Zabala also studied mass communications in Madrid where he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism. He trained for a well-known newspaper in Madrid, called ABC, and a news station, Antena 3. Zabala mainly covered news related to bullfighting because of his experience and knowledge on the subject.

Zabala, currently working on obtaining a master’s degree at USF, said the ELI program has improved his English and grammar since he moved to America in January. Zabala also said ELI has improved his scores in the TOEFL exam so he can be admitted to an American university.

Jaffre Flaitz, director for ELI, said students are taught survival skills such as how and where to lease an apartment and set up phone services. ELI students also learn about the American culture with the opportunity to interact with other students.

“The students love to interact with Americans,” Flaitz said. Rotem Dayan, a third-level student in the ELI program, came to America in August from Tel-Aviv, Israel. He began serving for the Israeli military when he was 18 years old.

“I wanted to serve in my country and give the best I could,” Dayan said.

He learned some English from watching movies in Israel before he came to America.

“In Europe you can see a movie that is translated for you, but in Israel the movies are in English with only subtitles,” he said.Dayan, now 21, is able to have a conversation with those who speak English. After several weeks in the ELI program, Dayan came to Tampa to study the English language and follow his dreams.

“I have always had a dream to study at Berkeley (University) in San Francisco. It is the most beautiful city,” he said. Dayan said he would like to study movies or film, but he is not yet sure.

Students can apply for a conversation partner at the institute for the language they want to learn.

“When the students interact, they notice the differences in culture and reflect on their own cultural practices and beliefs,” Flaitz said. “It’s an opportunity to develop a friendship with someone and learn more about who you are.”

Flaitz said students in the program this semester represent the world.

“There is no one dominant group,” she said. “We have students from Latin America, Europe, North Africa and Asia. However, we never have enough American conversation partners for all the ELI students,” she said.

Conversation partners get the chance not only to learn a second language but also to learn about another country and the lifestyle of that country.

Flaitz, who has lived in Russia and China, said one thing she has learned from working with different cultures is that people are more the same than different.

“People want to relax, have fun and get an education – how is that different than from what we want?” she said.

Flaitz said when the students from the ELI program and Americans interact as conversation partners they develop a friendship. Students can learn about each other’s cultures and themselves.

“Getting to know one person can change your whole life,” she said.

  • Contact Grace Agostinat oraclegrace@yahoo.com