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Easy A March 5, 2014

AUSTIN - From Abercrombie and Fitch to the playground, Spanish followed Lisa Ramon practically everywhere back in her southern hometown of McAllen, Texas. Everywhere except her own home.

With fair skin and a clear, accent-less voice, Ramon, a radio-television-film major at the University of Texas, is used to the initial confusion her peers encounter when they try to put a label on her.

Growing up in a predominantly bilingual town, but raised in a mostly monolingual, English-speaking household made her doubt her Spanish fluency. Although she identifies as Hispanic, Ramon is currently enrolled in an introductory Spanish class, making her just one of the unique voices of a group of Hispanic college students taking Spanish language classes.

Often, Hispanic students are expected to have a proficient grasp of Spanish, which can be viewed as an unfair advantage by students who havent had the same exposure.

However, while some students take the class for an easy grade, not all Hispanic students share the same background with the language. Some students take the classes to gain the level of competence their peers mistakenly believe they already possess.

According to a recent Texas census, Hispanics account for about 38 percent of the states population. In a state where almost 35 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home, many students believe improving their Spanish fluency would be valuable.

Ramon is currently taking the class to fulfill a major requirement and said she chose a language she was already familiar with because it seemed like the logical thing to do as a member of a predominantly Hispanic community.

While she saw her familiarity with the language as an advantage, she didnt think it was unfair.

Spanish [classes] are a lot more intense here, she said. Im very happy I have a background in it, or I might be drowning [under the workload].

It was for this reason that psychology major Graciela Rodriguez initially registered for a Spanish course for native speakers.

I thought it would be easier to get a good grade, and I hadnt been doing good the past semester, Rodriguez said.

She wanted to raise her GPA with the class, but she also wanted to become more fluent in her speech to help her career as a rehabilitation counselor where she would encounter patients who only speak Spanish.

Despite her familiarity with the language, Rodriguez said she found her Spanish classes at UT challenging. Like most Hispanic students, she was never truly exposed to the grammatical aspects of the language.

Similarly, Professor Elizabeth Pena from the UT department of Communication Sciences and Disorders said that she didnt believe a college-level Spanish course should necessarily be construed as an easy credit for Spanish speakers. Pena has studied the dynamic assessment of bilingual (specifically Spanish and English) children, and in her experience, most Latino children dont learn to read and write in Spanish.

While Pena sees the ability to read and write in Spanish as beneficial tools, students like Marisa Martinez and Jatsive Hernandez disagree.

Unless you want to be a Spanish teacher, that skill of literacy is irrelevant, Martinez, a junior majoring in journalism said. In her experience, most Spanish speakers arent literate in the language.

Although Martinez grew up with a strong Spanish presence in her life, she said she never caught onto the language. She decided to enroll in introductory Spanish courses because she found herself needing translations 90 percent of the time.

Hernandez, an undeclared sophomore, also grew up with a Spanish background, and considered herself fluent enough to forgo the college language requirement. Unlike some of her peers, she tested out by taking the AP Spanish test in high school without taking a single Spanish class.

Although she wanted the easy 5, the highest possible score on an AP test, Hernandez said she would have never taken a Spanish class at UT, because it would have been a waste. Similar to Martinez, Hernandez said she thought the ability to read and write in Spanish wasnt useful for most career paths.

I just automatically think its lazy, Hernandez said. Youre paying thousands of dollars in tuition, you might as well learn something new.

Rebecca Bielamowicz, a sociology and American studies major who was exposed to some Spanish throughout her childhood, took Spanish classes in high school and also tested out of a semester of her foreign language credit requirement.

Despite coming from a monolingual home, Bielamowicz was not fazed by her Hispanic peers who were obviously fluent, taking the same Spanish class as her.

Its kind of a copout, but I dont know if its unfair, Bielamowicz said. I think its like me taking advanced English classes.

Ramon did not attempt to test out of the language requirement because she felt unprepared at the time. For this reason, she said her Spanish class would prove to be valuable.

Spanish would be useful if I went back home and to the mall, Ramon said. My roommate is taking Italian, and its not like were going to Italy any time soon.