by Bridget Kern
On the first day of my placement with CLACS at the Urbana Free Library I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing that I knew was to be prepared to utilize spoken Spanish. This was a very daunting thought for me because in the past I had spoken Spanish in the classroom and occasionally with friends. I had received varying responses to my forays into speaking Spanish. In class where the emphasis is placed on learning, I felt shy but comfortable using my Spanish. With my bilingual friends the response was different. Some of my friends would laugh at my rudimentary pronunciation, while others smiled and said “Wow, you’ve learned so much”. With these experiences in mind I nervously approached the library. Never before had I been placed in a situation that demanded that I converse with native Spanish speakers.
When I arrived at the library, I learned that the author who was supposed to be reading his book to the children had not arrived yet, and I was informed that I potentially might have to translate a Spanish book to English while the program coordinator read it in Spanish. After quickly reading though the book, I found that I knew all of the words and could definitely translate the whole story. However, this was not the case, the author arrived and instead of being the entertainment I got to watch the entertainment. After a touching story about abuelitas, which was very meaningful to me because my grandma is important to me, and listening to a traditional Spanish folk song, it was my turn to lead the craft portion of the afternoon. I helped set up the craft and then offered assistance to the children who wanted to make Valentine’s Day picture frames for their grandmas.
What I found from this experience is that I can understand native Spanish speakers and they can also understand me. I felt most comfortable talking to the children instead of their parents because I felt like the children wouldn’t judge my grammar or pronunciation. My first day in my community placement helped me feel more comfortable speaking Spanish. I also met a study abroad advisor from the University of Illinois. He gave me information about studying abroad as well as the group Mi Pueblo, so that I could continue to practice Spanish. I also learned new craft centered vocabulary words. A final benefit of working at Spanish Story Time was that it put me in closer contact with the Latino community in Champaign- Urbana, which helped me experience the literary and musical aspects of Latino culture.