Ramapo professor to lead prestigious language special interest group

Ramapo College of New Jersey professor Natalia Santamaría Laorden was recently elected to lead a national initiative that encourages the contextual teaching of language, according to a Wednesday announcement.

Newly formed by the ACTFL world language organization, the Languages of Specific Purposes Special Interest Group is the first of its kind to further the issue of language and profession through the ACTFL network of professionals and in classrooms across the country. Santamaría Laorden will serve as the LSP group’s chair throughout its first full year.

“The formation of the Language of Specific Purpose Special Interest Group at ACTFL is an optimistic sign of a broader cultural shift towards an interdisciplinary approach,” Santamaría Laorden said. “Whether it is health equity, climate change, sustainability or accountability, I firmly believe that the way we teach world languages can humanize interactions and better outcomes across industries.”

Reflective of growing student interest and real-world needs, the LSP Special Interest Group’s primary focus will be on cultural humility within language learning. Aligned with a broader focus on an interdisciplinary approach, the network of educators, professionals and industry experts will define best practices and shared goals for educating toward the socio-dynamic context of language.

Of all the ACTFL’s special interest groups, the Languages for Specific Purposes group is the only one dedicated to providing students with real-world, transferable skills for the contemporary workplace. The principles defined and discussed in the group will lay the foundation for how colleges and universities approach language learning across the country.

“I am thrilled to serve in this position and extend the interdisciplinary work we already practice at Ramapo to the whole country,” Santamaría Laorden added. “We are currently expanding the Spanish program at the college through potential certification by the Certification Commission for Health Care Interpreters. This will allow us to join efforts with county colleges to strengthen the mission of educating well-rounded foreign language teachers.”

A pioneer in the issue of language and profession, Santamaría Laorden introduced the concept to Ramapo College with a Certificate Program on Spanish and health care backed by a U.S. Department of Education grant. Resonating with the student body and administration, the certificate program led to the creation of three popular new courses and an 80% increase in enrollment for its Spanish minor curriculum. The program also led to a successful new study-abroad opportunity in Bilbao, dedicated to immersing students in the Basque health care system.

In 2022, Santamaría Laorden co-authored the textbook, “Spanish for Health Care and Human Services: An Interdisciplinary Approach.” In the five months since its release, 200 desk copies have been distributed in the U.S., and 12 universities, including the University of Colorado-Boulder, Northeastern University, University of North Florida and the University of Cincinnati, have already adopted it.

According to Santamaría Laorden, the group, its work and her efforts at Ramapo will have a significant tie-in to desires at the federal level about enhancing language education as a way to increase global competitiveness.

“My work with colleagues at the ACTFL will contribute directly towards addressing recent concerns by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona about the needs to promote bilingualism as a gift and to educate professionals to compete abroad. In such a diverse country and world, the work will foster a better understanding by the education and business industries of the connection between world languages fluency and success.”