Smiley and happy, Deb Hulstein of Sioux Center introduced herself to her Spanish-speaking friend, who then introduced herself to them in English.
They practiced together with the language they’ve been for at the Sioux Center Public Library to learn thanks to the combined efforts of teachers Ruth Mahaffy and Ginger Culpepper, both from Sioux Center.
Every Tuesday evening, Mahaffy is, the library’s bilingual programmer, is leading an eight-week accessible “Introduction to Spanish” course. Culpepper is an English teacher of a second language at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon offers English classes on Tuesday and Wednesday Wednesday evenings in the library.
The second time, the pair of teachers took around 30 minutes from every class to get their students together to put what they’ve learned into practice.
“These conversation times take you out of your comfort zone, but in a good way,” Hulstein stated. “I work in the hospital, coordinating volunteers and occasionally welcoming visitors at the door. I was intrigued by the Spanish course to be able to be more welcoming for those who are fluent in Spanish at the hospital. These conversations help me to not only learn Spanish but also to be comfortable speaking it.”
Maynor Ramirez of Sioux Center Sioux Center was also in agreement. Sioux Center’s Guatemala-born native works for Link Manufacturing in Sioux Center has been a resident of the Sioux Center community for five years.
“When I came, I knew no English,” he explained. “I was trying to improve my English by listening. I search for words that I hear. Classes help me learn the words, but speaking to people speaking the language helps me better at learning.”
The evening discussions have provided the added benefit for everyone in the class.
“I like the talking times because I get to know more people in the community,” Ramirez stated. “It makes me feel excited because Americans don’t have to learn another language like Spanish, but these are.”
“Through the questions we ask, we learn more about our Hispanic neighbors,” Hulstein stated. “The environment provides a relaxing environment to learn. We all know the difficulties of learning an entirely new language. Therefore there’s lots of humor between us. In the end, it’s a way to boost my confidence to play around with the things I’ve learned.”
While English classes were offered for 50 weeks for more than ten years at the library, This is two times Mahaffy has offered the no-cost “Introduction to Spanish” class. The first time she taught, it was Winter of the year 2020. The course was not held in the previous year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
She was thrilled to have it back next year to meet a demand for the area.
“The class came about a couple of years ago because we had patrons asking for it,” she explained. “Adults had attended classes to improve their English and asked, “What about learning Spanish? I want to speak to my neighbor or coworker or have an employee from my dairy with whom I’d like to communicate more effectively. This course aligns with the library’s goal to provide lifelong learning opportunities and connects different communities.”
Mahaffy planned her Spanish class for Tuesdays so that she could be held at the same time as an English class.
“A big part of learning a language is using it and not being afraid to make mistakes with native speakers,” Mahaffy explained. “Setting up my class the same night as one of the English classes allowed us to provide that conversational piece to support both classes.”
Mahaffy will have 18 pupils who are in the Spanish course this Winter. The class began on Jan. 4 and ran through February. 22. English classes are taught at intervals of 10 weeks, so students have the option of changing between 10 and 10 weeks. The change occurred at the halfway point of Mahaffy’s lesson, which allowed her class to use what they were learning from various ESL students.
“Winter is a slower time; fewer activities are going on for people and the library, so it seemed like a good fit to do the class again now,” Mahaffy explained. “We’ve had an excellent response all around.”