“Spanish at Starbucks” brings Spanish conversations to a real-world situation

  • Spanish speakers of all levels can practice their conversational skills while sipping coffee at Starbucks in the Jerry Falwell Library, put together by the foreign language honors society.
  • Learning Spanish allows Christians to share their testimony and the Gospel with a new community, in addition to boosting resumes.

While many of the social hubs on campus are hitting their Monday afternoon lull, Starbucks at Jerry Falwell Library is coming to life.

At 4:15 p.m., students meet for coffee and conversation, sharing details about their day and other topics. But here’s the catch about the chit-chat: it’s all in Spanish.

“Spanish at Starbucks,” hosted by members of the foreign language honor society Sigma Delta Pi, began in the fall semester of 2016 as a twice-monthly conversation group. By springtime, the idea had gained so much momentum that it became a weekly occurrence.

“It’s a great way to meet new people and practice the greetings (while) introducing yourself,” Haakan Nelson, secretary-treasurer of Sigma Delta Pi, said. “It’s an important skill to know how to make the small talk…and be confident in it. ‘Spanish at Starbucks’ is about getting people together in an informal, low-pressure atmosphere to practice and reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom.”

The idea for “Spanish at Starbucks” was inspired by the silent dinners hosted by the American Sign Language Club, which allow ASL students to practice their sign language beyond the walls of the classroom.

“I thought that was a really good idea, and I thought it would be a really great way for us to connect as well, so I asked if they minded if we borrowed their idea,” Andrew Milacci, assistant professor of Spanish and faculty advisor for Sigma Delta Pi, said. “Starbucks seemed like the place everybody goes, and it’s just really appealing to have a coffee and sit down and practice your language.”

According to Milacci, “Spanish at Starbucks” is unlike the typical classroom setting.

“In a lot of ways, it’s a very real-world type of scenario,” Milacci said. “In class you have perfect silence and everyone’s focused on what you’re saying, and here it’s noisy and very active.”

According to Sigma Delta Pi President Lacy Norton, this real-world scenario presents opportunities for growth as participants practice what they know and learn from one another.

“It gives us the chance to discuss different things we normally talk about in English but don’t usually get to talk about in Spanish,” Norton said.

The conversation group is open to all students and faculty who have an hour to spare, whether they speak Spanish fluently or only know basic phrases.

“We have some native speakers come, we have students who are in Spanish 101 & 102 and even upper-level literature classes,” Nelson said. “It fosters a really good conversation dynamic, as opposed to a classroom setting where you may only be with students who are at your same level.”

Nelson, who is majoring in biomedical sciences and minoring in Spanish, views the language as a vital tool to use in the here-and-now as a student and member of the local community, as well as in the future vocation he is working toward.

“Spanish (speakers are) such a large population (and) can really be used to serve God and people in Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries,” Nelson said. “I’m interested in missions, and being able to speak another language provides that opportunity.”

According to Milacci, fluency in a foreign language is more than a skill that looks good on a resumé and expands horizons—it’s a piece of the speaker’s testimony.

“Language is a gateway,” Milacci said. “Speaking Spanish exponentially changes the ratio of people you can talk to and share the gospel with. It’s pure communication with…a whole population that was shut off to you before.”



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