Spanish Club makes the real world its practical classroom

November 4, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

a server at Las Margaritas, during the Spanish club’s first Una Tertulia Oct. 27. Photo By Chantelle Lusebrink

Tacha Romany (above, left), a Spanish exchange student at Issaquah High School, orders food from Salvador Gomez, a server at Las Margaritas, during the Spanish club’s first Una Tertulia Oct. 27. Photo By Chantelle Lusebrink

“Hola. Como estas?” Andrea Noon, a Spanish teacher at Issaquah High School, asked her students as they seated themselves Oct. 27. “Como te llamas?”Unlike their day-to-day Spanish lessons, this one wasn’t in the classroom. Instead, Spanish club students made Las Margaritas their new classroom for their first Una Tertulia, or discussion group.

“We’d like to see this create a local language exchange,” said Julie Huber, another Spanish teacher at Issaquah High. “There are so many people that spend a lot of money to go abroad to become fluent, but we have the resources right here in our own back yard.” 

The restaurant serves as a place for students to learn additional Spanish and use it in a more informal setting where grades don’t matter, Noon said. 

The session mixes students and community members to form different groups where they can learn and practice the language together.

Doing that allows them to speak the language with native Spanish speakers and other students, learning the accent and more informal phrases used in common dialogue.

“We’re learning how they speak in common phrases, which is very different from how we learn from a book,” junior Michelle Benzinger said. “This is a hands-on experience.”

Since it was their first meeting and few community members were there, the restaurant’s managers and staff accommodated them by making nearly everyone speak Spanish at the door and made those attending the discussion speak Spanish to order their meals and talk to their server.

“My kids are bilingual,” server Salvador Gomez said. “I believe it is a benefit for students, adults and for everyone.”

Being bilingual can often help people achieve better jobs and it promotes education about different cultures, he said. 

In time, Noon and the club’s students said they hope their group becomes popular enough to attract many of the Issaquah area’s native Spanish speakers in a cross-cultural and language exchange where both benefit.

“Our main goal is to involve the local Hispanic community,” said Maria Tilden, co-president of the school’s club. “We want a place where speakers of Spanish and others can get together and speak both languages and learn from one another.” 

“I hope it will open their eyes to how many people in our community speak Spanish and teach them not to be afraid to speak when they think they see someone else who might,” Noon said. “It is practice for everyone.” 

After an hour of Spanish conversations over dinner, the students will offer free English lessons for about 30 minutes. 

The English lessons are something Noon said her students can give to the Spanish community. She said she hopes that by offering those lessons, her students can help the local Hispanic community further connect to resources within Issaquah and at its schools. 

“There are several Hispanic parents that don’t come to school because they feel uncomfortable with their English,” Noon said. “I would love them to make this a place to connect to Issaquah culture and to the greater community.”

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