Spanish & Latin American Studies

The Andes Mountains

Spanish/Latin American faculty offer a variety of courses focusing on the Spanish language and Latin American area studies from a variety of disciplines. Although most of the courses in the program are taught in Spanish, area studies courses can include those taught in English in other teaching units such as the School of International Service, History, Anthropology and Sociology. The program takes advantage of the University's Washington location through a Spanish-language internship (Proyecto Amistad), as well as field trips, guest lecturers and the wide range of research opportunities in the area. A Certificate in Spanish Translation can be incorporated in our majors, or be taken separately.


New Internship

See below our Internship in Spanish Interpreting & Translation with the law school.






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Jack Child Outstanding Capstone Project

Interview with Ilah Saltzman, recipient of the annual Jack Child Prize for Outstanding Capstone Project in Spanish (2022).

During my time at American University, I majored in Spanish Studies with a minor in Art History.

For my capstone project, I examined the topics of audience reception, ethics and exploitation in Latin American documentary film. While recognizing the beneficial, educational qualities of many documentaries in this genre, I hoped to expose some of the discourse surrounding the violating, dehumanizing representation that the genre also reinforces. I studied a variety of Latin American documentaries, comparing them with the work of some impactful theorists, seeking to identify certain trends in misrepresentation. Through this research, it became clear how poverty can become easily aestheticized in mass media, how irresponsible documentary filmmaking reduces nations to ugly stereotypes, and how marginalized Latin American bodies may become commodifiable objects within the system of global capitalism. By targeting the ways documentary filmmaking can be voyeuristic and exploitative, I sought to create a framework for more productive, respectful documentary production.

My capstone project was inspired by a variety of Latin American language, culture, film, literature and history courses at American University, along with some classes I took through a language immersion program at Middlebury College. These experiences helped me understand both the historical and contemporary effects of colonialism in Latin America and allowed me to explore the subject through so many meaningful lenses. In Professor Brenda Werth’s capstone course, where we dissected a wide array of influential Latin American documentaries, I had the opportunity to learn how so many topics I studied within my major could be expressed through art. Colonization, slavery, the formation of global capitalism, Indigenous identities, exploited nations, the rich cultures and histories of Latin America, are all represented through documentary film. Focusing on discourse within Latin American documentaries was a way I felt I could target some contemporary effects of colonialism while still showcasing the strengths of the nations I was discussing.

I am currently living in Sevilla, Spain! I work in a bilingual primary school outside of the city, where I teach English as a second language.

Your writing will flow so much better if you genuinely care about what you research. There are infinite routes to take with the capstone whether it be linguistics, visual art, literature, film, or themes of immigration, colonialism, globalization, etc., so choose a concept that feels exciting to learn more about. The paper definitely takes up a good amount of time and energy, so making sure you’re invested in the topic is really helpful! I would also encourage you to pace yourself and get an early start with your writing, break it up a bit so your workload doesn’t become overwhelming at the end of the semester.

Ilah Saltzman

Course Spotlight

Manuscript by Bartolomé_de_las_CasasSpanish 210 Latin America: History, Art, Culture

Latin America's history through literary texts, films and documentaries, and other artistic representations. Analysis of how the Latin, African, and indigenous cultural heritages have combined to produce a unique culture. SPAN-210 is a Cultural Inquiry course in the Habits of Mind part of AU CORE, offered FALL 2024, taught in Spanish and English!

New Internship Program

Internship in Spanish Interpreting & Translation with Washington College of Law

In Spring 2020, the Department of World Languages and Cultures partnered with the Washington College of Law to pilot a new internship in Spanish translation and interpreting for American University students completing their translation certificates in Spanish. Professor Isaac, Director of the Translation Certificate Program in Spanish, collaborated with law faculty and staff to create this exciting opportunity for students. In the Spring, Anneli Sánchez and Piper Neulander, both International Studies majors, interned at the Washington College of Law, where they assisted attorneys and clients in legal interpreting and translation at several of the ten in-house clinics supported by WCL. Learn more about Anneli’s and Piper’s experiences.

Describe the kinds of tasks you performed during the internship.Anneli Sánchez

While at WCL, the tasks I performed included legal interpreting and document translation. In my case, it was mostly for the Human Rights and Immigration clinics.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

At first, I found the legalese while interpreting to be a bit of a challenge. As opposed to translation, which allows you the time to look up the correct translation of the word; in interpreting, it’s an in-the-moment kind of thing and it does catch you by surprise even though you might feel like you know the case by heart. Another big challenge was not getting attached to the client, nor the case, nor the story. I found it troubling at times because there were situations a loved one, or at times, even I had gone through and it’s definitely hard to have to create that boundary with such short notice.

What was most rewarding about the experience?

I have two for this question. The first was definitely getting to work through an entire case and seeing the client’s face of relief at the end; and their gratitude! It’s simply fulfilling. The second one is the fact that you feel like you’re making a difference, no matter how small or insignificant your job might seem in a case. I think a lot of people could also relate to this and “being a part of something bigger.”

Did the experience foster your interest in translation/interpreting professionally?

It did! It’s incredible to find out that something you saw as the norm can become such a big movement. I grew up code-switching and unknowingly interpreting for my family given our Hispanic background, but I had never considered the professional experience it could also be. It also motivated me to start learning other languages in the hopes of being able to translate and interpret in these as well.

What surprised you about the experience?

I think I surprised myself more than anything. When I was first offered the incredible opportunity at pioneering Proyecto Amistad, I was scared, to say the least. I remember telling Professor Isaac that I did not consider myself the most apt candidate given my lack of familiarity with the legal field. Yet here I am, five months later with an entirely new set of skills that I plan on improving and expanding.

Describe the kinds of tasks you performed during the internship.Piper Neulander

I translated text messages, emails, and letters between clients and lawyers and sometimes news articles, and legal or political documents to help build clients’ cases. I also interpreted for client/lawyer meetings. Sometimes this was at the WCL clinic, sometimes they were held in Mt. Pleasant, and sometimes they were over the phone or on Skype. Interpretation sometimes also required sight translations of documents, and helping clients fill out paperwork.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

The biggest challenges were the emotional tolls of wanting to get everything perfect, and also learning about the difficult experiences of clients, while fulfilling the professional role of an interpreter. I often was very nervous about meetings with clients beforehand, because I was worried I might not understand their accent or certain vocabulary terms. It was also a difficult role of having to be very precise and humble, because any mistakes I did make had an effect on other people, not just myself. There was an emotional fatigue to interpreting and learning about the difficult experiences of many clients. It was rewarding to be helping, but also hard to deliver bad news to clients, or to be worried about what their legal and personal outcomes would be. It was a learning curve to remain stoic on the outside, and having to mold into the role of an interpreter, which often felt unnatural.

What was most rewarding about the experience?

The most rewarding aspect was using my Spanish language skills for good. It made me really proud to know that I could use my second language to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives, and that learning Spanish brought me an experience I otherwise never could have had. I enjoyed learning about clients’ cases, and what goes into the legal journey for asylum, refugee status, or even proper wage compensation. The human connection made interpreting extremely meaningful, and it gave urgency to translating news articles and documents, since I knew they were building a better possible future for that client. It was also fun to take what I had learned in class and apply it to the real world, and I was amazed by how much we learned in class actually really did apply in the work.

Did the experience foster your interest in translation/interpreting professionally?

Translating and interpreting are super hard, but I found interpreting especially meaningful, and I gained a huge amount of respect for professional interpreters/translators. While I don’t think I would want to be an interpreter as a long-term career path, I do feel more qualified now to do it as a job, and it could be such a cool way to get to live and work in Spanish-speaking countries. I don’t want to be an interpreter forever, but I would totally do it again to supplement travelling. I also think I will utilize my skills in translation in my career. If I am ever publishing any writing, I want to translate it into Spanish as well, to reach the wider Spanish-speaking audience.

What surprised you about the experience?

What surprised me was how hard interpreting and translating is. I gained so much respect for the skills that professional interpreters and translators have to be able to switch between languages accurately.