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Lilt of language can broaden horizons

p Teacher passes on Spanish, polishes English

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

Like a magic carpet, a gentle give and take floats around a classroom at Queen of Angels in Austin as María; de Lourdes Malagon Durren interacts with her Spanish-language students. Durren jibes the students with a face as straight as her shoulder-length black hair.

"Paco no se divierte en la clase de Español,"; Durren says to a boy who indeed does not look like he's having fun in the class.

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When asked to repeat the verb tenses with her, though, Paco joins in the exercise.

Durren's work at the middle school is part of Austin Area Catholic Schools' K-12 Spanish-language program.

The students appear to be teaching Durren nearly as much about English as she's teaching them of Spanish.

"Since the beginning, I told my students I will appreciate it if I misspell something or mispronounce something that they let me know," she said after the class.

She struggled to explain that the verb "sentir" means to feel, but not to touch.

A girl said, "You mean like, 'I feel the dog?'"

"You say that in English?" Durren asked, surprised.

"No," the girl replied.

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Together they taught each other the verb is used in sentences such as, "I feel happy."

When she inadvertently conjugated a similar verb, the students corrected her.

"Good, you are better at Spanish than I am. How do you know that?" the teacher asked.

The response was a teacher's dream: "It's in the book."

Durren moved to Austin from Queretaro, Mexico, two years ago after marrying Christopher Durren, who works for Hormel Foods Corp. She is studying business at Riverland Community College, while teaching seventh- and eighth-graders to speak her native tongue.

She and Christopher met in her hometown while he was there on business. Since he speaks fluent Spanish, the two spoke exclusively in Spanish while they were dating, she said. When she moved to the United States, she realized she'd have to improve the English she'd only studied a bit as a student.

Durren has had three college-level English classes, but is still perfecting her use of the second language.

"I have a two-year degree as an interior designer. I never really worked as a designer. I got my degree in my hometown, and there were not many opportunities for me to work as a designer so I started working for a public relations agency as an account executive so that's how I got involved in all these marketing areas," she said.

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That's where her career dreams lie.

"I think with my degree in business, I will have more opportunities to teach if I want, even to teach Spanish, but the opportunities are wider," she said.

She also gives private Spanish-language lessons.

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