MM Meet & Greet featuring weekly Intercambio- Spanish/English language exchange program

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this post that Spanish is the second most used language in the United States or that the number of people aged 5 or older whose primary language spoken is Spanish has more than doubled since 1990 to an astounding 38 million. What may come as news to many (sadly much of US history) is the fact that Spanish was the language spoken by the first permanent European settlers in North America.  By the charge of Spanish explore and conquistador Juan Ponce de León 1565, the Spaniards founded St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, and as of the beginning of the 19th century, it became the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental US. Still looking in our past, the Spanish language continued to grow as a result of land snatched up by wars with Mexico and by land purchases. Fast forward to the present era and we see the language's rapid advancement due to the rising number of Hispanic and Latino Americans, an ethnolinguistic group of 52 million people that today represents the largest community of Spanish speakers outside of Mexico. And despite the absence of any national language, nearly half of all U.S. Spanish speakers speak English "very well," according to the self-assessment Census question respondents.

This background info primes my telling you all about the ongoing Spanish-English Intercambio, Language Exchange, which takes place every Friday from 6-7 pm at Art Centro (485 Main St).  In a city as culturally diverse as Poughkeepsie with a high number of Spanish speaking residents, this group offers an invaluable service to those seeking to develop their language skills, whether in English or Spanish.

In case you don't know, I'll tell you what a language exchange is to give you a good idea of what the program looks like here in Poughkeepsie. So, the Intercambio as a concept traces its origins to the cafes of Latin American. Fundamentally, it is the meeting of native English speakers interested in learning Spanish with native Spanish speakers who are learning English. Depending on the number of participants, the group splits into smaller groups which then discuss the designated theme of the evening, occasionally the speaking partners change in order to keep the experiences varied, and the discussion that follows is for some time in English and some time in Spanish.

The program is really about providing the right kind of practice to speak a language with greater ease, eventually more fluency. Many really important aspects of the spoken language, are overlooked or difficult to learn from instruction and class time. In order to learn the informal expressions and slang that are so commonly used by native speakers, and to learn about the people "are" in that culture; or rather how they interact, their customs and traditions connected to language, their sense of humor, their values, etc. The participant is able to practice speaking in a completely relaxed and supportive environment with adequate time to understand and patience from all involved. Where everyone's goal is the same: to help each other learn a language and to have fun in the process, a language exchange is the best training to link the classroom learning and real world communication.

Whether for purposes of business, social networking or just being more neighborly and increasing cross-cultural dialogues, this initiative is one of its kind in our area and is truly a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, whom you might not otherwise get to know, and to share with others the gift and power of language- being able to express yourself, and communicate verbally with interesting individuals from various national backgrounds and ethnic groups.

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It's a bit late notice at this point but tonight there will be a fine Meet & Greet event from 5 pm- 6 pm at Art Centro (485 Main St (also see MM calendar) for anyone in the area interested meeting each other and meeting some of the employees and volunteers behind the Middle Main Initiative. We are spotlighting the "Intercambio," the Spanish-English language exchange in Poughkeepsie, that meets every week on Friday at 6 pm also at Art Centro.

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I venture out on Main St and meet people in the neighborhood with Jenny, a fellow HRH employee and former VISTA member. A native Spanish speaker herself, so much that she accomplishes in Middle Main is thanks to her ability to connect with the residents face-to-face, to meet and have conversations. To my untrained ear, her Spanish sounds fluent, perfect, but she says people jokingly comment that it could use some fine tuning.  She says her Spanish contains a lot of Spanglish- the name for the mixture of English words and phrases into Spanish for still effective communication. I would think that the neural links in her brain related to language are strengthened in both English and Spanish so much so that cross-over occurs and Spanglish comes out, but I think that's a brilliant blending of cultures and not a hindrance if she is still be able to be understood and say what she wants well enough.

I personally haven't read or spoken Spanish for years, but would like to understand more of the conversations going on around me. In order to serve this organization and this community the best I can, I will need engage with residents at the level of the community, and to do that I will need some working level of Spanish. Therefore, I will pick up and actually read my copy of La Voz, watch Univision for more than a minute, and just generally make an effort to think and speak more in Spanish (eating out, shopping for groceries, etc).

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