Georgetown, KY – Travel. Study abroad. Jobs using one’s Spanish language skills.

Those are just a few of the topics of conversation that Georgetown College’s Rebbecca Pittenger looks forward to having  with prospective students and their parents and teachers in her role as Spanish immersion coordinator for our new Inmersion en Espanol Program (IEP).

“Immersion engages students in a way that’s very different from the classroom – it’s living the language and having a greater access to the culture,” said Pittenger, who has lived that life passionately herself.

Spanish immersion coordinator Rebbecca Pittenger

Her first immersion experience was as a high school junior from Marietta, OH, living with a family in Madrid, Spain while she studied at Ramiro de Maeztu High School. (How special was that? Here’s a clue: her host family will attend her wedding at Lexington’s Red Mile in October!).

Pittenger’s experience with language immersion since has been both academic and professional. She studied Chile and Uruguay—most recently, completing a year’s worth of Master’s level coursework at the tiny South American country’s national university (Universidad de la Republica) under the auspices of Rotary International in 2008. And, she spent two summers working as an administrator for Middlebury College’s summer language program: the Spanish School, or La Escuela Espanola.

A teaching assistant of Spanish at the University of Kentucky for the past five years, Pittenger will be defending her PhD thesis there this fall: “Memoryscapes: Place, Mobility, and Memory in the Post-dictatorial Southern Cone.”

In the summer of 2010 – when she was looking for a distraction from dissertation writing – Pittenger, a self-proclaimed lifelong doodler and lover of whimsy, put her funky, intricate designs to the test, and started printing them on t-shirts, totes, and thank-you notes. La Percha Designs was born. And, she and her fiancé/business partner (David Caplan) sell their designs at Lexington’s Farmers Market at Cheapside on Saturdays, online, and at The Hive Salon and Lexington Rescue Mission Bazaar.

“The name of our project comes from the Spanish saying that goes something like ‘clothes only look good because of their hanger,’ meaning that YOU are the hanger and you are beautiful,” Pittenger said. 

But, now Pittenger’s focus is on identifying students—be they native speakers, heritage speakers, or non-native speakers of Spanish—who are interested in refining their language skills in a supportive, community-driven environment. She will be recruiting “worthy and interested students from as close by as Georgetown  and as far away as Temuco, Chile (where GC is partnered with Colegio Bautista), with the goal of fostering an environment that is equally encouraging of language learning as it is supportive of international perspectives.”

Students, if you are interested in becoming a player in the new global market place or just learning Spanish outside the classroom as well as within, contact Rebbecca Pittenger.

Teachers, if you wish for your best high school students to improve their Spanish-speaking skills in an immersion environment, contact Rebbecca Pittenger.

That’s or call (502) 863-8012.

Pittenger, 29, will also be working with educators, to develop the Inmersion en Espanol program pedagogically, and with state legislators and businesspeople, to determine how IEP might benefit the Bluegrass. The most recent census data have shown that the area’s Hispanic community is growing rapidly, which means that, especially in an area of the country already known for its international influenced, a more globalized and bilingual workforce will help to best address these changes to our community.

She will also be taking our IEP “on the road” to conferences such as KWLA (KY World Language Association)in Lexington, Sept. 22-24; National Hispanic College Fairs in Atlanta, GA, and Chicago, IL, in October the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) in Denver, November 18-20; and AATSP (American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese) in Puerto Rico next year. She will also be visiting high schools in the U.S. and throughout South America (particularly Venezuela and Chile because of existing relationships in those countries).

 “I am completely convinced that immersion is the most effective and fun way to learn a new language,” she said. “Thanks to immersion experiences, language goes from something that exists only in textbooks and conjugation tables, to something that has a life and style of its own. As you can imagine, immersion programs have a way of fully engaging students—captivating them, even—in a way that the traditional language classroom simply cannot.”