For volunteer month, the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center highlights a special volunteer, Etty Chatman.
Originally from Central America, she loves her native language and volunteers her time to teach Spanish at both the Center and her church.
Friday mornings you’ll find her here teaching a class of 12 or more members. She doesn’t mind making the trek from her home in Wayne, PA to West Philadelphia. Teaching is a lifelong passion. Before she retired, she taught in both elementary and middle schools.
Knowing it would be harder for older adults to learn a new language, she sticks to the basics. “Most people come to class eager to learn,” she explains. “I encourage them to only speak Spanish while in class, as they will also learn from one another.”
A Peek Inside Mrs. Chatman’s Spanish Class
“Hola. Buenos dias!” Members greet each other as they arrive. Mrs. Chatman starts with the alphabet saying it’s different from the English alphabet.
“Let’s go over what we’ve learned before,” she instructs the class. “Remember that the H is silent, while the J makes an H sound. The O is only pronounced as a long O, and no other vowel uses the long version.”
Next, the class tries rolling the double R and breaks out in laughter at their feeble attempts. “Come on, I know that all you grandparents make a ‘vroom-vroom’ sound when playing toy cars with your grandchildren,” she teases. “You can roll that R.”
A Grateful Class
Her love of the language is contagious. The class appreciates how the spoken sentences seem more like romantic poetry and singing than talking. With each lesson, everyone makes an attempt, repeating the words and sentences over and over again until they get it right.
Michael, a member of the class, shares, “I like how Etty focuses more on pronunciation and less on grammar. I really feel like I’m learning to speak the language.”
Thank you, Mrs. Chatman, for sharing your gift. You are a blessing to the Center and to our community.