Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela implements “Panama Bilingue,” a project that will create opportunities for citizens to be bilingual in Spanish and English. -Courtesy photo
The University of Southern Mississippi launched a partnership with the Republic of Panama with an initiative known as “Panama Bilingue,” a project implemented by Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela to ensure his citizens are bilingual in Spanish and English.
In early January, Southern Miss welcomed 50 Panamanian educators to campus. Half of the group, pre-service elementary school teachers, now study English at Southern Miss’ English Language Institute.
The other half, ESL teachers, will be on campus until March 6. These teachers are taking classes on teaching a second language methods and applied linguistics in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
“This is important for Southern Miss and Hattiesburg as well, as it will bring diversity and different cultures,” said Chrisopher Miles, associate professor and chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
“These people are here really embracing American culture and we should be embracing and eager to learn about them as well.”
Hector Mendoza has taught English in Panama for 10 years. He arrived at Southern Miss in January and is following courses such as English Methodology, American Culture and Accent Reduction Therapy.
“It’s been nice, but I would like to find more people to practice the language,” Mendoza said. “Because I’m here to improve my language, and sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes we feel shy to talk to people because we don’t know their reactions at the moment.”
Though he would like to have more occasions to practice his speaking, Mendoza improves his listening, reading and writing daily. Outside of classes, he works at the Joseph Cook Library, enjoys reading the American newspapers and watching the news on television.
Varela pledged to send 1,000 Panamanians per year for the next five years to study English and second language teaching methods.
Institutions of higher learning across the English-speaking world are hosting pre-service elementary teachers and teachers of English as a Second Language from the Latin American nation.
According to Panamanian Embassy, the Ministry of Education and the government of the Republic of Panama seeks to train at least 2,000 teachers per year in bilingual education and prepare 20,000 high school students and 30,000 elementary students with this initiative.
“Mississippi is one of the Republic of Panama’s most important trading partners,” said Steven Moser, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “It’s an honor to be working with the government of Panama in such an important endeavor.”