Lunch Time? Spanish Time.


Allison Baroni, Features Editor

It started with a story.

A student came to Spanish teacher Caroline Murray last year, wanting to read a book in Spanish but unsure of what was out there.

Murray decided reading a book en español was such a great idea that she offered all her students the chance to read Ladron de la Mente and discuss it with her for extra credit.

On the same day, five students came to her class to discuss the novel-entirely in Spanish.

“We just had this fantastic conversation,” Murray said. “I was sitting there going, wow, like, this is so cool, all these students are contributing, all of us are speaking Spanish, we’re all talking about this common thing, and then I started thinking, how could I integrate this into my normal day?”

Integrating this type of stress-free talk into the classroom can be difficult because, of course, all teachers are expected to grade their students on how well they utilize correct vocabulary and grammar structure. So instead, Murray decided to do a lunch. Her experience with teaching conversation classes had taught her how beneficial unchecked speaking in a group can be to a person’s development with a language.

Quickly, she talked with Vice Principal of Student Activities Tim Case about the possibility and then went straight to the other Spanish teachers, a couple of which got on board right away. Together, they worked to organize the monthly lunches.

Because these lunches resulted from an idea and a passion, rather than a decision and plan from the whole Modern Language department, there are currently no French Conversation lunches available.

However, Murray pointed out that a foreign language conversation lunch “is not even something that needs to be done by a Spanish teacher. It just needs to be organized by someone. It just requires a person.” So, she encouraged any French students interested in a French Conversation Lunch to organize it themselves. If their only need is a moderator, she would be happy to supervise.

For now, though, her focus remains on the Spanish side of things. The goal of the Spanish lunches is to provide an incredibly low stress environment where students can come to practice their Spanish without fear of judgment or a negative impact on their grade.

A different Spanish teacher volunteers to run it each month, offering up their classroom and setting up different activities to assist people in practicing using Spanish. Bingo, conversation cards–pieces of paper with questions in Spanish to get the conversation going–or simply just talking in Spanish are all options for students in attendance.

Murray is a big believer that students tend to underestimate themselves and are capable of speaking a language much better than they believe themselves to be. “I would love students to gain, um, an appreciation for how much they understand and how much they can say,” Murray said. “I think it surprises students how well they are able to do.”

Psychologically, this makes sense. When it comes to learning a language, most people find themselves able to understand it, read it, and even write it–but when it comes to speaking it, they hit a wall. Or, actually, a filter. The Affective Filter. The Affective Filter is an emotional block that prevents us from feeling comfortable speaking in a new language and making mistakes. It’s completely normal, but in order to truly master a new language, this needs to be overcome. And this can only happen by simultaneously gritting your teeth and opening your mouth to make a million mistakes–and learn a million lessons.

Although you may not learn a million lessons during the once-a-month meetings, you will definitely have an opportunity to gain some confidence and get closer to overcoming your Affective Filter as well as practice using Spanish closer to how you would in reality.

And if you’re not feeling up to speaking quite yet, just swing by. Even just being in a place where Spanish is being spoken can be helpful. Especially in a place where no one is pressuring you to talk.

And students from all Spanish levels attend–around 30 students in total went to the last one. This is a great number because although in Murray’s and Spanish Teacher Anne Burson–Ryan’s classes attending 4 of these lunches counts for a semester cultural project, no teacher is offering extra credit. Students seem interested in practicing a different language, even if few of them know it all started with a story.