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Published: Wednesday, 12/19/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Non-Spanish-speaking Latinos get chance to learn language

BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Instructor Sylvester Duran speaks to students during a Spanish class for Latinos who don’t speak their heritage language. The free class geared to adults is meets on Thursdays. Instructor Sylvester Duran speaks to students during a Spanish class for Latinos who don’t speak their heritage language. The free class geared to adults is meets on Thursdays.
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When he was younger, Jose Duran refused to learn to speak Spanish.

“I thought it was uncool,” said the now 22-year-old Mr. Duran. “I always complained — I didn’t want to learn it.”

Now that he’s older, learning his native tongue and about his Mexican/Puerto Rican culture has become a priority.

“I feel like, being a Latino, this is part of my culture,” said Mr. Duran, a senior at Bowling Green State University. “I feel like I need to do it.”

A weekly Spanish class at the Believe Center, a community agency at 1 Aurora Gonzalez Dr. in South Toledo, is giving area Latinos such as Mr. Duran that opportunity.

The class teaches everyday, conversational Spanish, not the formal style taught in schools.

The Spanish class, which is free, meets from 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday.

It started three weeks ago and is to continue indefinitely.

Students are not required to attend every week. Last week’s class drew nine.

The class is geared to adult Latinos who never learned Spanish, said Sylvester Duran, 83, an instructor.

Some parents did not teach their children Spanish because of discrimination and language barriers they encountered growing up. Others, like his grandson Jose, rebelled against the “old ways.”

But the class can be enjoyable for such students because they are surrounded by other Latinos who can relate to their situation.

Non-Latinos often assume that all Latinos speak Spanish and express amusement if they can’t.

“We try to have a fun class with no pressure,” Mr. Duran said.

The key to learning Spanish is to have the “right psychological approach,” he said.

Many English speakers try to translate Spanish words into English, which can become confusing.

Sometimes no comparable words exist.

Other times multiple words exist for the same term.

To help, Mr. Duran offers easy-to-remember rules such as: “Spanish is a natural language — you read and write as it looks,” and “wherever the accent mark is you hold that sound.”

Juanita Duran, family program director, feeds her son Leandro, who turns 1 today, as she participates in the Spanish class. Juanita Duran, family program director, feeds her son Leandro, who turns 1 today, as she participates in the Spanish class.
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During class he coaxes the correct pronunciations from his students by reminding them to sound out vowels.

“If you are learning math, you don’t start with algebra,” Mr. Duran said. “If you’re going to learn Spanish you have to start at the beginning

Mr. Duran, who was born in Crystal City, Texas, often peppers his lessons with personal stories and cultural references in hopes that students better understand the context of the words they are learning.

Sometimes that can lead to unexpected results.

When Mr. Duran asks his much younger students if they know what the word “menudo” means; some respond that it refers to a spicy Mexican soup made from tripe.

Others recall that is was the name of “a boy band in the 80s.”

“A boy what?” the momentarily perplexed instructor says. “Oh, you mean the band that Ricky Martin got his start in?”

Both answers are correct, but the point Mr. Duran wants to make is that Spanish words sometimes have multiple meanings.

For example, the term menudo, when used as a verb, means “small,” or “insignificant.”

Learning the language and culture is giving many of the students a new appreciation of their roots.

It’s also helping them communicate better with Spanish-speaking relatives.

“During Sunday dinners, everyone speaks Spanish,” said Marcus McHugh, 24, who was never taught the language. “I want to know what they’re saying.”

He’s also discovered another good reason for learning Spanish: Women think the language sounds romantic.

“I’ve learned a few pickup lines,” said Mr. McHugh, who works as a local bartender. “It works.”

More information on the class is available at www.believecenter.com.

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154. 



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