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Café Social helps students hone their Spanish skills

By Gheni_Platenburg
Sept. 30, 2010 at 4:30 a.m.

Participants improve their Spanish skills by conversing in the language at Cafe Social Thursday night.

IF YOU GOWHAT: Café Social

WHEN: 6 p.m. every other Thursday

WHERE: Hastings, located at 5206 N. Navarro St.

CONTACT: Maria Salomé Chavarría at 361-570-4294

Practicar es perfeccionar, otherwise known as practice makes perfect.

That is one of the reasons that motivated Maria Salomé Chavarría to start Café Social, a club for Spanish enthusiasts interested in strengthening their conversational Spanish skills.

"The purpose is to give students and people in general an opportunity to practice Spanish in a non-academic environment," said Chavarría, who is a Spanish instructor at the University of Houston-Victoria. "I think students feel inhibited in class if they think they are being graded. Doing this in a different, more relaxed environment might help them improve their skills."

Chavarría, who has taught Spanish for the last 20 years, started Café Social in January, along with the help of retired Spanish professors Ernestina Kidder and Raphael Venegas.

The group, which averages 12 people per session, meets every other Thursday at Hastings, 5206 N. Navarro St.

Café Social promotes speaking in Spanish through group discussions on various topics, such as daily activities, vacations, goals and current events.

All learning is done during the social activity. There is no homework.

"The only assignment they have is to be enthusiastic about learning and practicing Spanish," said Chavarría.

People of all ages, professions and Spanish levels are welcome to attend, said Kidder.

"It's open to everyone," said 78-year-old Kidder, who taught Spanish for 26 years. "If a student stumbles, then we feed them the correct word or phrase and keep talking."

With the U.S. Hispanic population expected to triple in size by 2050, learning to speak Spanish is a growing necessity, particularly for residents of the Crossroads area, they said.

"There are very few of us that are truly bilingual in Spanish in Victoria," said Kidder. "When you live in a culture where people from other countries speak Spanish fluently, then you need to be able to communicate with them properly,"

She continued, "We are here to teach students to speak properly."

Since the Café started, many students have improved their Spanish speaking skills.

"It's amazing. I've seen people who are beginning to speak quite fluently and confidently," said Kidder.

First-year University of Houston-Victoria MBA student Juan Diego Martinez, 26, is one of those improved students.

"I'm Tex-Mex, so I've adjusted to the language I've learned, which is not at all how it supposed to be spoken," said Martinez, who has been attended Café Social since the spring. "The improvements come from sometimes I'm under the impression of how to say things that are not right, so they tell me the correction and then I remember them."

Like many Spanish students, Martinez said one of his problems with learning the language comes from not having anybody to practice with, hence his reasoning for coming to Café Social.

"I don't utilize my Spanish enough," said Martinez. "It's just an outlet for me to come speak conversationally."

Newcomer Ashley Soloman, 27, hopes to significantly improve her Spanish skills soon.

Solomon, who is a beginner Spanish student, was initially worried about not being able to keep up with the conversation of the other participants.

"It went pretty well," Solomon said about her first session of Café Social on Thursday night. "It was nice to have conversations with people, even if it was scripted a bit. It's nice to sit back and hear it spoken."

In the future, Chavarría said she hopes the group will continue to grow, but hopefully, not too large.

"I would like to keep it small so everyone has a chance to practice and improve their speaking skills," she said. "Our only purpose is to promote the use and practice of Spanish."

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