Casa de España teaches classes on the third floor of the Healing Center at 2372 St. Claude. Their goal is to “promote and divulge Spanish language, culture and heritage in the New Orleans area.” Casa de España was created by six friends with $900 in order to herald, cherish and teach people in New Orleans about Spanish, from the language to the culture.
When people talk about New Orleans, they think about French roots and presence. From the Quarter to Frenchmen Street, to beignets, to Creole French speakers, these are the icons that people associate with the city. But there is a Spanish presence in the city as well, both in its roots and today. From the architecture to the Spanish tinge (with a bit of Cuban flair), to the cuisine and the other side of Creole, Spanish roots and presence can still be felt in New Orleans. The Alliance Française of New Orleans is the city’s “premier center for French language and culture.” Casa de España hopes to be that for Spanish culture in New Orleans. “Our goal, our most basic goal, is to offer quality Spanish learning alternatives. From that, we want to become the main Spanish language and culture organization in the city,” said co-founder Carlos Vergel.
It is important to learn to speak Spanish in a pragmatic sense. Spanish is the second most spoken language in New Orleans, much like in the rest of the country. According to the 2010 United States Census, 37 million people speak Spanish in the United States (13% of the population). In New Orleans 4.84% of the populace speak Spanish, but it still greatly dwarves the other non-English languages, including French, which only 1.05% of the population speak (which is less than even Vietnamese, which is 1.87%). About 470 million people in the world speak Spanish as a native language, making it the second most native spoken language in the world.
For one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, which is growing in both populace and business, Spanish is going to be a quintessential language. As Vergel told me, “More people that travel, that want to travel, that travel to New Orleans, a lot of those people, a lot of the opportunities, will be linked to the Caribbean and Latin America. In a professional sense, [knowing Spanish], is a necessity.”
Yet a whopping 90.2% of the people in New Orleans speak only English. That is extremely different than other metropolitan areas, (for instance, 49% of the population in New York speak a different language at home). While New Orleans is not New York, and vice versa, in order to communicate with people coming into the city, and do business with international companies, Spanish will need to have a greater presence in the city.
Casa de España’s tagline is, “Mono-lingualism can be cured.” Each class is taught by a single professor, with anywhere between four and nine students in the class. This is done so that each student gets enough attention, and is active enough in the class. Vergel said, “We believe that the classes should be as small as possible. Feel that the personal relationship that the student has with the teacher greatly influences the student's ability to assimilate the language. If you have an affinity with your teacher…Small classes, attention from the teachers, and making sure the students participate as much as possible.”
There are four courses taught by Casa de España, grouped in A1, A2, B1 and a take-off course. The classes focus on the language in its entirety, not relying on shortcuts or focusing on one aspect, like some apps or learn-Spanish-in-30-days websites. “In terms of how we teach, we try not to focus on one single aspect of it. We take more of a holistic approach incorporating all the different elements, in more of a cumulative approach,” Vergel said. “We barely speak to the students in English, which forces them to get by as if in a Spanish-speaking country.” It is via these techniques that the students get closest to understanding Spanish.
Casa de España is currently focusing on the language Spanish for now. They may eventually grow into doing food and wine tastings. It is an easy connection, and something that has a lot of history with New Orleans. The first Monday of every month, they show a Spanish film at Café Istanbul.
“It is not necessarily a language school, but we decided to start with that because it is the most important part of the culture. And it opens you up to all the other aspects of Spanish and Latin American culture,” Vergel said. By learning the language, you catch the rhythm of Spanish, by learning the language you take a step closer to understanding the culture. It is a tough step, but a great first step, that gets you through the door to an extremely rich and vibrant culture. So if you’re interested in learning Spanish, or understanding the culture more, contact Casa de España. Bienvenido a Casa de España New Orleans.
To learn more about Casa de España, visit casanola.com.