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Language Research

Recent graduate's thesis helps him teach Spanish to high schoolers

It didn’t take long for Jake Murray, ’23, to recognize the professional relevance of his undergraduate research. In fact, he had yet to even cross the commencement stage.  

The BSU Spanish and secondary education major studied two distinct ways of describing past actions in Spanish that are challenging for students to grasp.  

“I literally taught the difference in a Spanish class,” he said, recounting an experience student-teaching at Taunton High School. “What the research told me, I could see in front of me.”  

That research on the preterit and imperfect verb tenses, which was part of his honors thesis, represents a passion for the Spanish language that he developed as a student. Jake started learning Spanish in eighth grade and initially disliked it. As his language skills advanced, he became enthralled by Spanish literature, music, and art.  

For his thesis, Jake relied on sources in English and Spanish. He studied the historical Latin roots of the two verb tenses, linguistic differences, cultural impacts in the Spanish speaking world and strategies for teaching students.  

The project’s interdisciplinary nature impressed Dr. José Lara, an assistant professor of Spanish who co-mentored Jake.  

“This was a thesis that was research based and also applicable to the classroom,” Lara said. “He argued for a more wholistic understanding of these tenses and the importance of understanding them for students and educators alike.”  

Lara and Dr. Melissa Tobey LaBelle, an assistant professor of secondary education and educational leadership, recommended sources and even commented as Jake drafted his thesis.   

“They were crucial to my success,” he said. “We were discovering this knowledge together.”  

Research was rewarding in itself because of the freedom it offered, Jake said.

“It is your idea, your interests, what you want to know more about,” he said. “This was the first time in my college career that professors were like, ‘It’s up to you.’ Though overwhelming at first, it was really empowering.”  

Now Jake is preparing to continue studying Spanish in graduate school at Universidad de Alcalá in Spain. He will also teach English while abroad.  

He then plans to return to the U.S. to teach Spanish – a career that he knows he is prepared for thanks to his BSU research and education.   

“I have this great privilege,” he said of becoming a Spanish educator who is not a native speaker. “I can not only share my passion with students but put myself in their shoes.”   

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