'El Cafecito' gatherings prove popular forum for all
Erin Redmond, assistant professor of Spanish at Alfred University (AU), says she’s impressed with the attendance and enthusiasm for El Cafecito, a weekly Spanish conversation hour at AU’s Language House.
“It’s very successful at such a small institution,” said Redmond. “From the beginning this has been student-driven. It originated from expressing a need to me. It continues because students want to be there. Last semester, attendance ranged between 15-35 students. I went to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin (50,000 students) and they would have five people show up to their conversation hour.”
Redmond explained El Cafecito, which means “the coffee” in Spanish, began two years ago when two students expressed concern to her that they didn’t have opportunities to practice their conversational Spanish. She noted while upper-level classes are conducted in Spanish, discussions primarily focus on literature and intellectual, scholarly matters. El Cafecito, she said, provides students with an opportunity to speak Spanish casually.
Redmond acknowledged promoting El Cafecito becomes time-consuming and credits students, assistants, and colleagues for their support. She and students Lindsey Vicoria of West Seneca (who graduated in May with a degree in psychology) and Julia Berke, now a senior Spanish major (with biology and chemistry minors) from Bay Shore, formed a student coordinating committee during the 2013 spring semester whose responsibilities included setting up the event, supplying food, and cleaning up afterwards. Berke and Jennifer Futterman, a senior history and Spanish major from Vestal, are serving on this (fall) semester’s committee.
Redmond noted El Cafecito is open to everyone in the Alfred community regardless of their Spanish-speaking experience. Last semester, El Cafecito particularly focused on Latin American culture in addition to conversational Spanish. Participants engaged in a cultural activity during each of last semester’s gatherings, including making, piñatas, Spanish Valentines on Valentine’s Day, Central American worry dolls, cooking and eating foods including empanadas, guacamole, arroz con pollo (Spanish chicken & rice), churros, flan, and asado (Argentine barbecued beef) and tango and salsa dance lessons. Some 35 to 40 people attended a formal dinner that concluded last semester’s sessions, she said.
This semester’s El Cafecito sessions take place on Wednesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Redmond reported this semester’s discussions will focus on new dances and foods and other Latin American cultural components. She said about 25 people have attended each session so far this semester.
“Everyone is welcome,” emphasized Redmond, adding an Alfred State student regularly attends. “You don’t have to be enrolled in a Spanish course. The only rule is you have to speak in Spanish. Many students who are beginners cannot say very much. They attempt and use sign language as if they were abroad. That is a wonderful way to learn.”
Redmond maintains this weekly immersion experience into Spanish language and traditions provides the Alfred community with a valuable cultural resource because many people can’t afford to travel to Spanish-speaking countries. She reiterates that people can participate regardless of Spanish-speaking experience and in many cases, people would were initially unsure if they would attend enjoyed their first experience and regularly returned.
“First-year students are often intimated to go,” she said. “Then I hear back that they had so much fun and they go again. I’ve been very pleased to see some of my first-year students, the boys in particular who are very shy, come to this and actually tango. Seeing the beginning students have enough courage to come try it and find out they had a great makes me so happy. It’s hard to say enough about how great it is to see students interested in doing something like this.”
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