Program Spotlights: Spanish and French

Foreign language proficiency an essential skill when engaging a diverse world

Inver Hills Community College has Spanish and French departments with talented, well-traveled and exceptionally knowledgeable instructors. Steve Hartlaub, PhD, teaches both Spanish and French courses at the college.

Steve started his teaching career at Inver in 2001. He has extensive experience studying and teaching abroad—he taught English for a year at the Université de Picardie in Amiens, France, and he studied Spanish at the Universidad de Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain.

You can learn more about Steve Hartlaub by reading his Teaching Philosophy and Faculty Bio later in this article.


The Spanish department at Inver Hills offers a rich selection of lower-division courses, from beginning to conversational to intermediate Spanish.

Our experienced instructors lead you to a valuable level of proficiency and cultural understanding in a stimulating and supportive environment.

Learning is enhanced through a communicative approach, multimedia technology, the Spanish Club and study abroad opportunities.

Spain’s dominant language is Spanish

According to Babbel, 450 million people speak Spanish as their native language. Only Chinese has more native speakers. Around 75 million people speak Spanish as a second language. Spanish is also the third most-studied language after English and French.

Spanish is the official language of the following countries:

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Spain
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

The United States is home to more than 43 million people who speak Spanish as their first language—that’s roughly 13 percent of the population. Another 12 million Spanish speakers are bilingual. Mexico ranks first for the number of people who speak Spanish—the U.S. is a close second; experts predict the U.S. will be number one by 2050.

More than 99 percent of Colombians speak Spanish

Spanish is an official language of the United Nations, the European Union, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Interpol, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Union of South American Nations (USAN).

You will discover that learning Spanish not only provides practical life and career skills, but also gives you new perspectives on the world. You can use your coursework to satisfy electives and program requirements, cultivate personal interests, or continue on to major or minor in Spanish at a four-year college or university. Language is a requirement for many liberal arts bachelor’s degrees.

In Los Angeles County 3.3 million people speak Spanish

Faculty perspective: Steve Hartlaub, PhD

Steve at Student Success Day 2020

My Teaching Philosophy

My approach to teaching is based on three fundamental convictions. The first is that learning is both an intellectual and emotional experience and that a primary obstacle to acquiring a new language is anxiety.

One way I reduce anxiety in the classroom is by establishing a strong sense of community and mutual support. Specifically, early on every semester, I have students become acquainted with one another through ice-breaker activities in the target language.

Then, throughout the term, I have them work with partners or in small groups. I change these groups often so that all students get to know each other. Before long, they begin to collaborate, take risks, and enjoy the learning process.

“A new language is a new life.”
— Persian Proverb

Another way I reduce anxiety is to focus on the progress of students rather than on their mistakes. When I do correct errors, I do so gently and cast them not as a source of embarrassment, but as a crucial component of learning. I will often make reference to my own errors as a language learner and remind students that I too am still learning.

The second conviction informing my teaching is that students learn best when they interact in meaningful ways. Thus, once students have studied a given grammatical structure or set of vocabulary terms, I have them use this knowledge to communicate with one another about topics they truly care about such as friends, family, jobs, school, possessions, and hobbies.

I place students at the center of their learning by means of interviews, scavenger hunts, skits, games, songs, and conversation questions. As students interact, I assume the role of guide and facilitator and help them along the path toward greater fluency.

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The third conviction underlying my teaching is that students learn at different rates and in different ways and that I need to draw on a range of learning models while constantly refining my methods and practices.

I pay particularly close attention to whether a given student acquires language better visually or aurally and whether providing detailed grammatical explanations is helpful or not. If not, I find other ways of presenting and explaining the material.

I also make sure to be as inclusive as possible when I select cultural materials such as readings, images, and music. A large part of refining my methods and practices is keeping abreast of the latest technologies used in language instruction and employing these in the ways best suited to my students.

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”
— Frank Smith

While I use technology in all of my courses, my most innovative use has been in synchronous all-online courses where I use web-conferencing software to provide real-time communication with students in remote locations.

I determine my effectiveness as a teacher in various ways. I use formative assessment strategies such as observation, questioning, practice chapter exams, and actual exams to gauge my students’ progress toward stated learning outcomes. I then provide feedback and adjust my methods to maximize student success.

I also use summative assessments such as a final oral interview and student evaluations. I take my student evaluations very seriously since they provide a perspective on my teaching I can never have. They serve as the springboard to my next semester as I incorporate their suggestions into future course design with the aim of providing even better learning experiences.

Faculty Bio: Steve Hartlaub, PhD

Steve at Kick Off 2018

Steve Hartlaub received his B.A. in French with a minor in Economics from the University of Saint Thomas. He went on to earn an M.A. and a Ph.D. in French Literature at the University of Iowa with a doctoral dissertation entitled “Subjects of Seduction from Laclos to Ernaux: An Economic Reading of Romantic Love.”

Steve studied Spanish at the Universidad de Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain, and later completed extensive graduate work in Spanish at Hamline University. He has been teaching Spanish and French at Inver Hills full time since 2011 and has been a faculty member since 2001.

Steve helped pioneer the use of online synchronous instruction at Inver Hills and has continued to adopt and refine new technologies for teaching languages.

“You live a new life for every language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once.”
— Czech proverb

He has helped students learn outside the classroom by advising language clubs and by facilitating community-based learning opportunities. He has twice received the Phi Theta Kappa Golden Apple Award for teaching.

As co-chair of the Inver Hills Assessment Committee, Steve led the development and implementation of a process for assessing college-wide learning outcomes and helped his faculty colleagues improve their teaching and assessment by providing assignment design workshops.

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
— Charlemagne

Before arriving at Inver Hills, Steve taught at the University of Saint Thomas, Winona State University, and Luther College. He also spent a year teaching English at the Université de Picardie in Amiens, France, and five years as a French Teaching Assistant at the University of Iowa.

For Steve, the best part about working at Inver Hills is helping his students grow in knowledge, skills and confidence.

Steve’s hobbies and interests include literature, philosophy, art, piano, guitar, fitness and travel.


The French department at Inver Hills is dedicated to teaching students one of the most popular, elegant, storied and fastest-growing languages on Earth.

Approximately, 300 million people speak French as their native tongue or are conversant in myriad French dialects and creoles. French is ranked  sixth on the world’s list of most widely spoken languages, falling in behind Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic.

French is the official and national language of France

Thanks to Africa’s burgeoning population (50 percent of native French speakers reside on the world’s second-largest continent), demographers predict the total number of French speakers could reach 700 million by 2050.

According to Babbel, French is the official language in nearly 25 countries, including:

  • Belgium
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Canada
  • Chad
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Djibouti
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • France
  • Haiti
  • Luxembourg
  • Madagascar
  • Mali
  • Monaco
  • Niger
  • Rwanda
  • Senegal
  • Seychelles
  • Switzerland
  • Togo
  • Vanuatu
French Polynesia’s dominant language is French

Alumna perspective: Souraya Nakib

Souraya Nakib

Age: 18
Hometown: Farmington, Minnesota
2020 Inver Hills graduate
Degree: Associates of Arts (A.A.) degree with Honors
Transfer plans: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities to study pre-med
Career plans: Finishing her bachelors degree at the U of M and on to medical school and eventually a career as a doctor

Souraya Nakib Q & A

Why did you decide to study French at Inver Hills?

I decided to study French at Inver Hills because I have always had an interest in learning and speaking French.

What do you like best about your French coursework?

What I liked best about my French coursework was how it included a lot of speaking practice along with learning about the cultural norms throughout French speaking countries.

What advice would you give students thinking about studying a foreign language?

My advice to students who are thinking about studying a foreign language is to not be afraid of trying something new, and it is okay to make mistakes—it’s one of the best ways to learn!

The French department at Inver Hills offers lower-division courses in French. You can obtain a valuable level of proficiency and cultural understanding in a stimulating and communicative environment. Learning is strengthened through multimedia technology.

You’ll discover that learning French not only gives you a valuable skill, but is also a superb way to gain a new perspective on global affairs. You can use coursework to satisfy electives and academic program requirements, cultivate your personal interests, or start on the path toward minoring or majoring in French at a four-year college or university.

French: Democratic Republic of the Congo’s official language

Learn more about studying Spanish and/or French at Inver Hills by contacting:

Steven Hartlaub, PhD
Spanish Faculty

Admissions Team
College Center

French is the first language of 88 percent of France’s population of 65 million

Nearly 47 million people speak Spanish in Spain


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