By Matt Blair
Inside Rudy’s Pizzeria on North State Street, a group of about a dozen people sit in the front right corner under the ivy as sun pours in through the window. Suddenly the noise of footsteps shuffling and customer conversation is cut with a resounding “Salud!” followed by beer glasses being raised in unison and clanking together in the middle. After each person takes a sip, one of members of the group sitting in the corner table cries out, “¿Tienes hambre?” before walking to the counter to order another pizza and pitcher.
This is a common Wednesday night for the Spanish Conversation Club, an AS club that meets at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday at Rudy’s. Two evenings a week the group gets together to discuss politics, religion, beer, homework and other topics using only Spanish to communicate.
“Basically what we do is offer an opportunity for people to speak Spanish and make mistakes without worrying about penalization,” Spanish Conversation Club founder and Co-President Justin Cherveny said. “They [participants] get the opportunity to speak to other people, which is something we don’t get to do a lot in class.”
Cherveny began coming to the Spanish Conversation Club’s meetings about four years ago, before the group had status as a club. At that time, only about four or five presiding members showed up each week. After a year of attending, Cherveny established the group as an AS club. He is also the founder of the Chinese Conversation Club.
Since then, the Spanish Conversation Club has seen the number of participants rise each week, especially after they moved the location of their meetings to Rudy’s. Cherveny said that he believed this is because a large portion of Western either speaks or is interested in learning Spanish. With the world growing more globally connected, he said that many students find themselves interested in exploring other cultures.
“Spanish is the fourth largest language in this country,” Cherveny said. “It’s important that we are able to communicate with Spanish speaking people. It only benefits you to be able to communicate with other people. It’s much easier to find a job when you have another language in your repertoire.”
Many curious new members come to the meetings for help with homework, while some members attend to maintain their Spanish or to improve it, Cherveny said.
“We usually help people by talking and talking until someone makes a mistake, then we’ll stop and explain it to them, which we believe is the best way to learn,” Cherveny said.
Cherveny said that some students may feel hesitant to come to meetings because they are concerned that they’ll be criticized based on how well they speak Spanish, a notion he discredited.
“A lot of people are afraid to come here because they’re intimidated and think we’re just going to throw Spanish at them faster than they can think,” Cherveny said. “But that never happens. We try to work slowly and teach people a step at a time.”
Co-President Ryan Brunhaver began attending the Spanish Conversation Club to maintain and improve his grasp of Spanish. Brunhaver spent 10 months in Mexico City. Using gifts as incentives, he would ask locals to speak Spanish with him, requesting that they correct his mistakes.
Brunhaver said that he believes many travelers hold stereotypes about the safety of going abroad. When in Mexico and Central America, Brunhaver met many native people that were excited to see an American that had taken the time to learn Spanish.
“Usually if a person goes to a foreign country and doesn’t bother to learn the culture or the language, they’re going to get a lot more disrespect,” Brunhaver said.
Even though Brunhaver said the experience of living alone in Mexico City was difficult at times, he still believes that it’s beneficial for every American to experience another country’s culture.
“I think traveling abroad is one of the best things you can do,” Brunhaver said. “Leaving the country is the best thing you can do for your country. You travel to see the differences, but once you get there, you see how similar our lives really are. It makes you a global citizen.”