Sandra Leone is much more than a program coordinator for SEED Winnipeg. Twice a week at lunchtime, she voluntarily offers Spanish lessons to her co-workers.
Her goal is to create a comfortable setting where people are free to munch on their jamón y queso sandwiches while “realizing their dream of learning another language.”
“It started as a joke, but I insisted so much to do this,” she laughs.
Leone focuses her Wednesday lessons on grammar and verbs, but on Fridays, she likes to keep it casual.
“On Fridays my lessons are very personalized,” she says. “My co-workers choose what they want to chit-chat about, what they want to learn, and we go from there.”
Leone is now the one standing at the front of the room, but she’s no stranger to the challenges of learning a new language. She speaks a fluent English but her charming South American accent betrays that it isn’t her mother tongue.
When she left her native Argentina to come work in Winnipeg eight years ago, Leone had to learn English from just about nothing.
“I wasn’t good at speaking and writing, and I could read a bit,” she recalls. “I used pretty much body language to communicate with people.”
When she arrived in Winnipeg, Leone enrolled in a structured English as an Additional Language (EAL) course, from which she retained little.
It’s because of this that her casual Friday philosophy is what it is.
“I went to classes for many hours every day,” she explains. “We were a class of 15 people from different countries in the world, with accents from those countries. In that environment, you might be able to speak three sentences a day and that’s all.”
Stiff, time-consuming classes are not the way to go about learning a new language, Leone believes.
“After a long day at work, people maybe don’t want to attend evening classes,” she affirms. “But for us, it’s right there at our work and in our routine. And it’s a nice break because sometimes I’m sitting seven hours in front of my computer and my legs are kind of numb.”
There are other benefits, she says.
“We get to talk with our co-workers about fun topics and not just about work.”