With increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking people in the Chattanooga area, knowing a little of the Spanish language has become increasingly helpful.
It’s also becoming a little easier for employees of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literature has begun offering a conversational Spanish course for staff and faculty.
Dr. Niky Tejero, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, helped create the new program.
“It’s a six-week beginning conversational Spanish course offered during the lunch hour, so it’s a class in a social setting. We’re providing dessert and drinks for people to develop Spanish speaking skills, six basic lessons—just enough to get you going,” said Tejero.
The free Spanish lessons are intended to directly benefit faculty and staff attending the classes, but there are some less-obvious benefits.
“We can incentivize our employees to extend themselves and develop special skills. Like bilingual skills, especially those who work in student-facing offices,” Tejero said.
And University employees attempting to use some Spanish words with students or their families is a powerful gesture, she added.
“If you go to financial aid with your parents who don’t speak English, and a born-and-raised American is speaking to you in Spanish, what message would that give you? You would think, ‘Wow, they’re making an effort to connect with me,’ which is what we’re trying to do in so many different ways with our prospective and current students,” Tejero said.
The class is taught by Dr. Lynn Purkey, head of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literature. Sybil Baker, a course participant and associate head of the English department, said Purkey is doing a great job.
“Dr. Purkey is a very good teacher. As teachers, we can see what she is doing. She is a very positive and encouraging teacher. She does lots of group activities where you speak to each other, so it’s not just book learning,” Baker said.
For those who do enjoy “book learning,” it’s included. An online component enables further study and practice outside the classroom.
“It’s really what you want to make of it. So, if you want to study, there’s a ton of online exercises, and we got the textbook for free,” Baker said.
This introductory class for staff and faculty is the first step in Tejero’s plan to create a more welcoming space for Spanish-speaking students at UTC.
“This little six-week course is the toe in the swimming pool version of it. I don’t imagine that the people who are working full-time in financial aid are going to want to get a four-year degree in Spanish, nor should they have to. They’re professionals and have a full-time job, but they can take one class at a time,” said Tejero.
Baker is among the participants who said they’d be back for additional classes.
“I appreciate that they are providing enrichment activities for staff and faculty,” Baker said, “and I hope they’ll do it again next year.”
Tejero describes the class as a small effort with a potentially big impact.
“It’s a relatively painless way to strengthen and diversify our current structures and systems to make them a little bit more friendly and accessible to this growing population,” said Tejero.
Baker was happy to show off her new linguistic skills.
“Me gusta clase. Es muy interesante. Es un poco difícil, pero la profesora es muy buena,” said Baker.
The translation: “I like class. It’s very interesting. It’s a bit difficult, but the teacher is very good.”