Habla Español? There’s space at the table for you

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

Every Tuesday for two years, a group of older adults have gathered for food and fellowship at the noontime hour, sharing their common interest of speaking Spanish.

They come with varying levels of fluency and past experiences with the language. Yet the fellowship is rich as they converse casually in Spanish and get down to the details of its vocabulary words and sentence structure. Their table is one of a room filled with seniors at the Lakeview Center’s daily hot lunch program, one of the many senior opportunities provided Black Mountain Recreation and Parks for seniors.

Dana Cadwell helps facilitate the Spanish conversation group. Having traveled to Bolivia several times since 2004 on mission trips with Christ Community Church in Montreat, Cadwell is eager to improve her Spanish. Hoping for more travel to Spanish-speaking countries, she has taken Spanish classes at A-B Tech and depends on the Thursday group to help her become more fluent.

The Spanish-speaking table at Lakeview is a great help with pronunciation, she said.

Lily Oatfield, 88, is an active member of the group. After she moved to the area a year ago, her daughter helped her research senior activities she might join. Oatfield first learned Spanish in school as a teen. Unable to find a similar opportunity closer to home, Oatfied now she travels from Asheville to Black Mountain to enjoy the Spanish group.

The group’s members come armed with English-Spanish dictionaries, vocabulary flash cards, and language translation applications on phones. They practice pronouncing vocabulary words and use them in simple sentences. They even assigned one another vocabulary words to take home and write in sentences to bring to the following week’s meeting.

All of them at a recent meeting agreed the weekly gathering has helped them get more excited about speaking Spanish. Each said they have improved their pronunciation and the parts of speech.

“We learn so much from listening to one another,” Lynn Swann said. Member Alma Bush has especially enjoyed hearing others talk about their experiences living in other countries. She likes hearing about the customs, traditions and cultures. “It helps the Spanish language come to life for us all,” she said.

The members consider Patsy Hilliard their leader. She has the most experience with the Spanish language. Hilliard lived in Spain for 20 years as a missionary and later taught Spanish at Montreat College. They said she helps keep the group energized.

When an English as a second language teacher from Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry came as a guest, they learned of the need for volunteers to work with the students there. The revelation led Cadwell, Swann and Bush to volunteer with the ministry’s ESL and GED classes to help Hispanics there improve their English.

“We work one on one with them on homework and help with pronunciation; most need to improve pronunciation for jobs they are in,” Cadwell said.

Swann worked for years in immunizations at Buncombe County Health Department. Since they served a large population of Hispanics, she took Spanish classes to help the many clients there. After retiring a year ago, she became aware of the many opportunities for seniors offered through the Lakeview Center programs. Now, she joins in for the daily hot lunch and regularly attends the Tuesday Spanish conversation table, which has greatly increased her understanding of the Spanish language.

The weekly gatherings have helped them become more aware of the needs for Hispanics in the community. The attendees are able to practice their skills and help others at the same time.

The Spanish conversation group is open to everyone who wants to converse in Spanish. People who are fluent in Spanish would be a welcome addition, members said. For more, contact Lakeview Center at 669-8610.