A week of speaking Spanish in Siler City

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 11:12 AM

Most people in Chapel Hill know Wayne Pond as the “word-of-the-day-man” on WCHL radio. Every weekday, he challenges listeners with an odd or interesting new word to add to our vocabulary.
But he has worn many other hats. He was the host of the popular nationally syndicated “Soundings” radio program produced by the National Humanities Center, and he directed the weekend seminar program for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Program in the Humanities.
He wears another hat, a sombrero as a Spanish teacher at in a unique immersion program sponsored by Central Carolina Community College at its Siler City location.
When Pond told me what he was doing, I told him I wanted to sign up.
He responded, “This program is for people who've had quite a bit of Spanish, not people like you who have never had a formal Spanish class.”
Without consulting with him further I signed up for the weeklong program. The lead teacher, Stephanie Chojnacki, welcomed the six-person class with enthusiasm. She let us know at the beginning that her effort was going to be to increase our conversational skills.
“I will be talking to you and when I ask you a question, I will give you the verb to use in your answer. Then I will insist that you give me an answer with a complete sentence, and you will do better if use the verb form that I give you in the question.”
Wayne Pond was correct. I was far behind the other five students in the class. Two women from Farrington, Clairbeth Lehn and Margot Kagan, had taken quite a bit of Spanish and were there are to brush up on their conversational skills. Margot grew up in Switzerland, speaking French, and new languages did not frighten her.
Barbara Duffy was preparing to take on a role as a home-school teacher for the children of a couple doing missionary work in Spain. Kathy Guthrie, an attorney who works for a national accounting firm, was brushing up her Spanish skills to communicate better with some of her clients.
Thomas “Ski” spent a career in the Army Special Forces and served in several Central and South American countries. He studied Spanish in the famous Army Language School in Monterey, Calif.
We were a mixed group as far as Spanish capability is concerned. Although I was far behind, our teacher, Stephanie, knew how to work for me. The rest of the group put up with me. Margot said she was glad to have me in class, because when Stephanie was working with me on conversation, she knew that she could take a breather because as she said, “It was going to take a long time.”
Some of the most interesting parts of the class were the joint sessions with students in the English as a second language classes at the community college. We would pair up for 10 minutes, then change partners. Each time we would spend five minutes speaking only Spanish and then five minutes speaking only English.
It turned out to be a great way to learn the language and a wonderful connection to the struggles of the people from all over Latin America and their new lives in our country.
One of the challenges came on a visit to the Loma Bonita store and café in Siler City. Alfonso Jimenez, a friend of the owner, guided the class through the options for the kind of meal Spanish speaking immigrants might order.
A great experience, but did I learn to speak Spanish in just one week?
No, not yet. But I am off to a good start.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch. This week’s guest is Sharon Draper, author of “Out of My Mind.”