Learning Spanish

By: Kelly Creswell Email
By: Kelly Creswell Email

The Valley is home to immigrants from all over the world, and a large majority are from Spanish-speaking countries. With Harrisonburg having the top percentage of English as a Second Language students, Spanish is heard everywhere from the grocery store to the bank.

However, there is a growing trend for English-speakers, who are learning Spanish. As the Hispanic population increases in the Valley, so does the number of Spanish-speaking business owners, workers, and people around the community.

In order to communicate, the trend in the past was to have newcomers, such as those who speak Spanish natively, learn English. The current trend is a role-reversal where people who speak English are learning quick Spanish phrases to function better in the workplace and the community.

For Orlando Argueta from El Salvador, he had been living in the US for nearly eight years before he took his first English class.

"I don't have time to learn English. I hear a lot of people speaking, and I learn it a lot, but I think it wasn't enough. That's why I try to go to school and learn more," says Argueta.

Now in an advanced ESL class at Dayton Learning Center, Argueta says he feels confident enough to communicate with others in the community. It looks like the tables have turned however, and you may find just as many English speakers learning to speak Spanish in similar classes.

"Well, before I took any Spanish in college, which has been recently, it was very difficult, but now the mortgage market has all the forms in Spanish, the disclosures in Spanish and I'm more able to use that to converse with them," says Elizabeth Robinson, who works at Monroe Mortgage Company in Harrisonburg.

After working in her mortgage office for 23 years, Robinson wanted to learn Spanish, especially after the forms started coming out in half English, half Spanish.

She says, "It's much easier. I'm not as intimidated as much as speaking and worrying about making a mistake, because they will forgive you for your mistake because they know you are trying."

"I think it's good for them because they can find somebody who's not speaking English and speak to them in Spanish," says Argueta.

However, these classes are different than taking a college course. At Blue Ridge Community College, a class called Command Spanish is offered in which people learn phrases of Spanish useful at work instead of the traditional semester-based Spanish-language classes.

"You have the opportunity to learn maybe as many as 25 to 30 phrases in an eight hour time period, versus maybe a couple semesters of Spanish, learning how to speak a few phrases," says Patty Lotts, the coordinator of the BRCC Professional Development Programs and Small Business Outreach.

There are even custom classes geared toward particular professions to help English-speakers break the language barrier and communicate with Spanish-speaking customers.

"It is a necessity," says Robinson. "If you want to treat people fairly, you have to be able to communicate with them."

At the Dayton Learning Center, the conversational Spanish class meets for two hours a week for 12 weeks. At BRCC, for the first time, open enrollment for Command Spanish will be offered this semester, and the course runs for three weeks, with each session being about two hours.

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