STORY BY LINDSAY FIEGLE
Drake University’s first Spanish Club was founded in 1925 and served to give Spanish-speaking students an opportunity to learn about literature, language and customs. Ninety years later, Drake still provides this opportunity for its students.
From 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. every Wednesday, a small group of Drake students meet in Medbury Honors Lounge for the Spanish Speaking Hour.
During the hour, students hold an informal conversation in Spanish with a native speaker.
“The idea is that students will make a connection with the language and culture outside of the classroom,” Eduardo García-Villada, assistant professor of Spanish, said. “The goal is to give that opportunity to students.”
García-Villada has served as the director of the Spanish Speaking Hour for seven years. However, he is not directly involved in the program. The hour is meant to be a natural, casual conversation among students.
“We wanted some sort of informal group talking about cultural issues, language issues all in Spanish in a relaxed environment,” García-Villada said. “I think the setting is important. That’s why we like the lounge.”
A native-speaking student facilitates each week’s conversation, though there are no requirements or topics that must be covered.
The tutor paid by the Spanish department to facilitate the discussion changes from year to year.
“There’s always a rotation of accents and cultures students are exposed to,” García-Villada said.
Pablo Valladares, a first-year piano performance major from Ecuador, is the current tutor.
“I enjoy being able to speak my language at Drake because there are not many people that I can speak with here,” Valladares said. “I’m also interested in showing (the students) the language and cultures and the different accents that South America has.”
Each week, Valladares begins an open conversation that students contribute to. Throughout the hour he helps students with words or phrases as they practice their Spanish skills and freely converse.
Though in the past García-Villada has required students in Spanish classes to attend, the hour is open to anyone who wants to improve their Spanish skills. Some students attend to prepare for studying abroad or just to have an opportunity to practice the language if they take a semester off of Spanish classes.
“The hour is open to all of the university community including faculty, students and staff,” García-Villada said.
“I told myself I was going to start learning Spanish again,” Ethan Turner, a student who regularly attends the hour, said. “I never personally have taken a language class at Drake. [The hour] gives me an opportunity to practice learning with others.”
Turner appreciates the relaxed atmosphere that allows students to practice Spanish in a natural environment.
“The conversation becomes whatever you want to talk about. It takes it’s own course,” Turner said. “It’s a chance to make a friend in another language.”
Participants who attend the hour are typically proficient enough in the language to contribute to the conversation, but students of all speaking levels are welcomed.
“My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter how much Spanish you have,” García-Villada said. “I want to call it Spanish for all. Español para todos.”