Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How Can I Practice Spanish in the Community in Northwest Indiana This Summer?

There are a many options for learning and practicing Spanish around NW Indiana. When you make the brave step to begin using Spanish with native speakers, you'll get lots of chances to use the language in the local community.  Speaking in a real life context is the fastest way to become fluent.  Grammar and vocabulary foundations that are built in a classroom can boost your confidence and help you become easier to converse with in Spanish.  Think of classes as a courtesy to your real teachers in the world around you:  your Latino friends and neighbors.  Your language skills will improve fast when you practice with speakers who are more fluent than you are, and others will really appreciate your help in communicating as you apply your growing grammar and vocabulary.  I encourage you to practice with recent immigrants and Spanish-speakers living in the area.

I teach full-time at Valparaiso University. Classes are excellent tools for learners of all levels, especially to study the formal grammatical structures, the syntax, vocabulary in context, an introduction into cultural topics, in-depth study of literature and history, and regular, scheduled practice and evaluation.  

Some employers pay for classes in Spanish, so ask if your HR department will fund this venture!  The investment in employees and in the community is worth the cost to many companies!  

I have a few ideas for you around the area.  These suggestions are geared for working adults.  I have other suggestions for children who wish to learn Spanish.  I will post those later.

Classes at Valparaiso University are offered four days per week. You would go through the admissions office for taking a continuing education course.  In addition to language courses, Valpo offers majors in Latin American and Latino Studies, in Spanish, in International Service, and in International Economics and Cultural Affairs.  www.valpo.edu offers information about these programs.  

In Gary, Indiana University Northwest classes meet 2 or 3 days per week. Lots of evening options are available. Summer classes begin in May or July. Call and talk to admissions or the registrar and let them know you want to take one class.

For a lower cost option, Ivy Tech classes are taught one day per week for a 4-hour class, at Valpo and Gary campuses. You can also take a class online, but for speaking practice I recommend you take a classroom class.  Eight week classes are given every semester, as well as the traditional 16 week classes. Many of these classes are online, which works for people who are not able to attend a weekly class session.  But live immersion and daily classes, with simultaneous conversation (not asynchronous instruction) and face-to-face classes are by far the most effective way to learn language.

The Valparaiso International Center is a nonprofit here in Valparaiso on Lincolnway. They may set up private tutoring or offer referrals for you: http://www.valpovic.org/contact-us
They have cultural nights for global topics, and sometimes offer things like a conversation group and salsa dance lessons in the evenings.

The communities I know best are Hobart and Valparaiso.  Please share more recommendations in the "comments" section.  A few good places to practice Spanish while eating out or shopping include: La Rancherita Bakery / El Ranchero Restaurant in New Chicago, off route 6 in Hobart by the Red Rooster.  La Carreta in Merrillville (by Kmart) has the best decor and dining atmosphere of any restaurant in the area and the food is wonderful.  Of course, don't miss out on El Salto in Valparaiso, Chesterton and Munster.  We love the horchata at El Amigo on Calumet by Ace Hardware in Valparaiso.  La Cabaña is newly remodeled and is across from the university in Valparaiso.  Don Quijote on Lincolnway in Valparaiso is authentic Spanish food (not Mexican)...think Mediterranean, Peninsular cuisine.  

Grocery stores are: La Mexicana grocery store / fruit market in Valparaiso at Roosevelt and Evans, behind Phil B's restaurant.  Also,Tarimoro Guanajuato is a store in Lake Station, on Central Ave., where you can buy produce at good prices. There is a small market called Merkev on Calumet Avenue on the way out of Valpo.  El Salto has a new grocery story on Lincolnway by Valparaiso University, next door to Domino's Pizza. These grocery stores are a good cultural experience.  

You may learn more from individuals than from a classroom.  Maybe you'll find a recent immigrant family willing to spend time tutoring you or doing conversation practice. You could probably post a sign in the local Hispanic grocery store to ask for people to contact you about teaching you. People love to share what they know. 

Attending worship services in Spanish is a good way to learn language in context and to meet friends.  St. Paul's Catholic Church in Valparaiso has services at 12 or 1 pm in Spanish. Gloria Dei Mission meets at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Valparaiso. Worship services are at 11 AM on Sundays in All Saints Chapel at Immanuel. 

You can practice Spanish online if you want to do some listening practice, once you acquire some grammar and vocabulary lessons. Two listening activity websites that I highly recommend are:
http://www.laits.utexas.edu/spe/   Here are some listening activities for various levels, with transcripts so you can see what they say.

http://www.notesinspanish.com/   This is a listening website with a couple from England and Spain. You can pick up some vocabulary and listening practice there. 

Tutors can be hired for a reasonable price for conversation classes, formal lessons over chat or Skype, and individual tutorials at http://www.edufire.com/ and http://www.italki.com/. Edufire tends to be classes and formal tutoring. Italki seems more like a dating website but there is certainly the option to be "taken" (whether or not one really is) and to be selective about the language exchange partners that one selects. I belong to these websites but have not found classes in the less-commonly-taught languages that I want to study (indigenous languages, and Catalan and Galician). These websites have been recommended to me by friends who use them and love them. 

If you are interested in an individual tutor for specialized vocabulary, prices range widely depending on the education and experience of the instructor, and the class size. There are some local tutors in Northwest Indiana. 

Best wishes. Please stay in touch with questions as you learn the language. Let me know if you have questions or if you find a great teacher, class, conversation group, cultural immersion experience, or website that I should know about. If you're motivated and willing to practice with native speakers in the community, you'll become fluent over time, you'll make friends, and you will be able to help and be helped by a lot of people.