September 21, 2015 | By Blake Alsup
Courtesy of The Daily Mississippian
Every Monday afternoon, students and teachers alike gather together for coffee and conversation at the Barnes & Noble Café in the Student Union. Their talks cover a variety of different topics, but what makes their meetings unique is not the subject, but the language. “El café de los Lunes” was created for those wishing to learn, improve, and practice their Spanish in a friendly environment. Usually ranging from three to 10 participants, the meetings last from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
The meetings began in 2006 when Irene Kaufmann, lecturer of Spanish at UM, and a few of her students started having casual small meetings over coffee. The students were looking for opportunities to practice their Spanish outside of class and after an increasing interest from new students, the meeting started to occur weekly.
By 2009, Kaufmann and her students began calling the meetings “El Café de los Lunes,” which translates roughly to “Monday Cafe” in English.
“Since then, every Monday during the semester, students know I will be at the coffee place, and that they can come and meet other students to practice,” Kaufmann said.
Kaufmann said students are often afraid of saying something wrong in a classroom setting in front of their peers and professors.
“The atmosphere at ‘El café de los Lunes’ is informal and with no pressure, which makes students at all levels of proficiency comfortable speaking in front of one another,” Kaufmann said.
“Because so many members of the group were in the learning process, it was quite easy to get over being intimidated or afraid to try my language skills,” said Patrick Fields, a 2014 Ole Miss graduate and four year member of “El Café de los Lunes.” “At the same time, the presence of native speakers and higher level students ensured that the conversations would be a challenge with lots of opportunities for growth.”
Kaufmann said “El Café de los Lunes” helps to improve students’ Spanish much more than only attending class. It is impossible to become a fluent speaker solely by spending three hours per week in a classroom, Kaufmann said. Engaging in face-to-face contact with other Spanish speakers is crucial for people serious about learning the language and is a great asset to students seeking careers that involve speaking Spanish.
“After I graduated, I went to work in an office that handled immigration cases with the US Department of Homeland Security. Most of my clients were from Spanish speaking countries,” Fields said. “So, yes, the skills that I developed at ‘El café de los lunes’ were very pertinent to what I did and what I plan to do once I finish law school.”
The El Café de los Lunes Facebook group currently holds 138 members, including active members as well as members that have graduated and want to stay in touch.
Kaufmann said being a Spanish major or even being an Ole Miss student is not required to participate. Anyone from the Oxford community is welcome to stop by.
“One does not need to be a member to come to our Monday meetings. Anyone is welcome to come,” Kaufmann said. “In fact, this semester we are trying to get the message out, so people in the community feel welcome to join us.”