UNCA professor hosts weekly Spanish speaking event at Black Mountain Brewing

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
A group of local Spanish speakers gathers at Black Mountain Brewery every Wednesday evening to practice their language skills.

Black Mountain local Michelle Bettencourt holds a conversation group for Spanish speakers every Wednesday evening at Black Mountain Brewing. 

"When you speak a language," Bettencourt said of a non-native language, "it sure does take a lot of effort to get to a point where you can speak it."

Bettencourt, an associate professor of Spanish at UNC Asheville, started the group last February. A resident of Black Mountain for the past six years, she invited Spanish speakers to come to Black Mountain Brewing in an effort to find a public, outdoor space where group members could feel safe during the pandemic. 

According to Bettencourt, the idea for the group came when multiple Spanish speaking colleagues asked her if she'd ever considered creating a group for people who would like to hold conversations in Spanish but maybe didn't have the time to take a class. 

She spoke with her husband, a native Spanish speaker, and they agreed it would be nice to give up a night once a week to help people with backgrounds in the language practice through conversation.

A group of local Spanish speakers gathers at Black Mountain Brewery every Wednesday evening to practice their language skills.

"Word got out," Bettencourt said. "It's really funny how it's grown and how people have found us. We don't advertise anywhere." 

John Richardson, owner of Black Mountain Brewing, said he got to know Bettencourt as well as her husband and son as they came by the brewery every Friday. Bettencourt proposed hosting the group to Richardson, who enjoyed the idea, having studied Spanish in college. 

"They do a great job and we're thrilled to have them," Richardson said. "Tell anybody that wants to practice their Spanish to come out and have a beer and join them."

While word of mouth brings in the most participants, Bettencourt said many members of the group simply happened to be at the brewery, overheard Spanish speakers, and joined in the conversation. 

"We had no expectations," Bettencourt said. "These two friends wanted to practice and we enjoy their company. Easy enough thing to offer the world."

Having started the group during the pandemic, Bettencourt said she chose Black Mountain Brewing because of the outdoor option and the ability to speak in a setting where group members felt safe from the virus. 

"We didn't want to go indoors and we definitely didn't want to talk with masks on," Bettencourt said.

A group of local Spanish speakers gathers at Black Mountain Brewery every Wednesday evening to practice their language skills.

Although the group takes place at a brewery, Bettencourt said she welcomes Spanish speakers of all ages and levels. She said the brewery aspect can present drawbacks to those who don't imbibe or are under the age of 21. 

"I want this to be accessible," Bettencourt said. "Doesn't matter who you are, if you want to practice Spanish, come."

Due to the outdoor setting, the group typically doesn't meet rain or shine. Bettencourt said since the brewery presents a smaller space, she wanted to keep the group outside as long as the threat of COVID-19 remains. 

"We've not gone inside," she said. "What with all the noise and masks on, it's not very conducive to working with your Spanish."

Bettencourt said she's experienced instances of negative attitudes to Spanish speakers over the years, especially in raising her son to speak languages beyond English. Speaking Spanish to her son in public has yielded hecklers, shouting at her to 'speak English.' 

Bettencourt said after she moved to Black Mountain, she felt as though she was in a welcoming community. 

"This is one more example of how I love living in a small community," Bettencourt said. "I hope that when other people around hear us speaking Spanish it's a positive thing."