“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” wrote the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” of 1922. Today, we realize the importance of mastering our two prominent languages to gain a competitive edge professionally, for cultural identity and even social integration. Fortunately, the Villa Maria Language Institute succeeds at implementing proven methods of language education here in the Rio Grande Valley.
Students of the Villa Maria Language Institute (VMLI) in Brownsville, Texas are unexpectedly diverse according to Campus Director Sister Irma Gonzalez. “Business people and students from both sides of the border come to sharpen English and Spanish skills. We have nurses and doctors from the Philippines, India and Africa who seek to Americanize their English pronunciation. Newcomers to the Valley in the maquiladora industry, avid travelers, and even parents who desire a better communication with their children come here. We’ve seen it all,” said Sister Gonzalez.
“Our program is based on the European immersion method of language instruction introduced in the Valley by the sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament back in 1853,” said VMLI Director Fernando Pineda. “Since then, the program has been highly successful, for the focus is on speaking only in the target language. Following that tradition, our students are immersed in grammar, conversation, composition, reading, phonics and spelling with a special emphasis on conversation and pronunciation,” stated Pineda who has been with the VMLI since its creation in 1990. According to Pineda, Valley residents are inherently bilingual; “All they need is to put phrases together, and feel confident about speaking. The immersion method and our small intimate classes are the answer,” said Pineda.
English, Spanish, French, Italian and German complete the roster of courses offered at the VMLI. The school is accredited by the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department (TCCED) and by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In addition, the VMLI has an advisory council composed of community members who advocate for the school and assist with infrastructure and business decisions.
The devout congregation, who arrived in South Texas from Lyons, France over 160 years ago, has been committed to academic excellence with a ministry based on a deep faith in God, and is motivated by a Catholic philosophy of education. Students are not required to be Catholic to enroll. But because of this ministry, and the fundraising efforts of the school’s advisory council, VMLI spearheads an outreach program in two Brownsville Catholic Parishes; the Good Shepherd and San Felipe de Jesus. Every year over 200 people have the opportunity to study English at no cost thanks to this program. Both Sister Gonzalez and Pineda value this ministry, for it has helped thousands of people get a better job, apply for citizenship, graduate from High School or acquire a GED. The program has even helped bridge language barriers among migrant families.
Witnessing students fulfill their education goals, and providing the tools to succeed motivate Sister Gonzalez and Pineda to persevere. Both are well aware of the economic challenges that face our community. The number of students at VMLI fluctuates around 50 to 150 each year. “Due to the uncertainty in Mexico, we have lost a great number of Mexican students, especially in the evening classes. We have also seen a decline in senior (Winter Texan) students,” said Sister Gonzalez who also directs Incarnate Word Academy; a private Catholic elementary and middle school with an annual enrollment of over 200 students.
Sister Gonzalez and Pineda have tremendous faith in God, but they also have faith in their language education methods and VMLI’s experienced instructors. Right now they are organizing the 2015 summer program for children and adults. Kids have the most fun, for music, computers, arts and crafts as well as videos and field trips are part of the summer curriculum which starts July 6th through the 31st of the same month. “We look forward to welcoming new and returning students, especially families who make this a vacation. They come to Brownsville to learn English and have a good time,” concluded Sister Gonzalez.
The Villa Maria Language Institute offers year-round courses for children, adolescents and adults. Private classes are available by request, and the school is open to making contracts with businesses for off-campus education. Weekday, weekend and tutorial classes are always available with new courses introduced every three months. All English and Spanish instructors are native speakers of the language they teach. French, Italian and German instructors are either native speakers or have studied in the corresponding European countries. For more information visit villamarialg.com