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Spanish Pronunciation Workshop looks to Promote Inclusion within the Classroom

September 21, 2020

Ileana Baeza, Vanessa Ruiz and Belén Agustina Sánchez

By Kasey Brammell

The Cronkite School’s Diversity Initiatives and Community Engagement program has launched a Spanish pronunciation workshop geared towards helping faculty and staff create a more inclusive classroom environment for students.

Led by Spanish professors Ileana Baeza and Belén Agustina Sánchez from ASU’s School of Letters and Cultures (SILC), the workshop’s focus is educating participants on how to better pronounce Spanish names.

“We’ve been told by students that sometimes, in the classroom, a professor has not pronounced his or her first and last name properly,” said Vanessa Ruiz, director for Diversity Initiatives and Community Engagement at Cronkite. “Sometimes, it can feel that there isn’t even an attempt to pronounce it properly.”

To try and remedy this, Sánchez and Baeza touch upon the culture surrounding Latin and Hispanic descendent names to further the understanding of why it’s important to pronounce them correctly, as well as Spanish phonetics. The professors will also provide online resources for assistance outside of the workshop.

“Vowels are like the bone structure of many names,” Sánchez said. Without knowing how they sound, she added, it would be impossible to properly pronounce Spanish names.

The idea of the workshop inspired Sánchez to examine SILC’s own resources for faculty and staff. She discovered that there are only resources on how to pronounce Chinese names. “If they can do that with Chinese, that is so difficult and has so many new sounds, we can totally do that with Spanish,” she said.

Ruiz hopes to plan a series of workshops for pronouncing names in many different languages. Her next workshop idea is to work on pronunciations of African and African American names.

“This is an initiative that we can do at Cronkite and Arizona PBS that will allow our faculty and staff to hopefully create an environment that is more inclusive, open and will allow our students to feel respected, valued and seen as well,” she said. “For a lot of people, that has importance and significance. It’s a way to show that you are trying to be respectful and understanding of someone’s background, culture and heritage.”

Ruiz has been dedicated to diversifying newsrooms and garnered attention in 2015 for pronouncing Spanish words in their native sound while as a news anchor in Phoenix. “I was coming from a place of not wanting to be bullied or discriminated against because of my desire or natural inclination to pronounce certain words in Spanish with a Spanish accent because I am bilingual,” Ruiz said. “That situation definitely changed the route of my career and that’s why I do what I do today.”