Taking on the difficulty of learning a language at an older age, senior citizens at the Coon Rapids Senior Center are taking free Spanish classes twice a month.
The classes started in January 2010 and are taught by volunteer Donna Raiche on the second and fourth Thursday of every month.
Raiche teaches three different classes: Beginner 1, Beginner 2 and Intermediate. Beginner 1 meets at 11 a.m., Beginner 2 meets at 12:30 p.m. and intermediate meets at 1:30 p.m.
While the class is free, students must purchase their own textbooks.
Raiche said she is amazed at how well students have been learning and reviewing, both first-time learners and advanced students.
Several students in the intermediate class are fluent.
“They love it, they just seem to love it,” Raiche said.
Around 25 students total attend the classes. Coon Rapids Senior Center Program Specialist Kris Niebler said the Beginner 2 and Intermediate classes are the largest.
According to Raiche, while it’s commonly believed older individuals cannot learn a language, these classes have proven that’s not the case.
“A lot of people think elderly people can’t learn anything, but this is definitely not true. I promise you they are learning it,” she said.
Students Mary Misko and Evelyn Johnson sit in on both the Beginner 1 and Beginner 2 classes.
They came to a consensus that the struggle for seniors to learn a new language lies in memory.
“It’s not so much grasping it, it’s the memory and using it,” Misko said.
Misko has been taking the classes periodically for travel reasons.
She said she interacts with a lot of Spanish speakers when traveling and wanted to know what they were saying.
Since starting classes, Misko said when she comes across Spanish writing she now tries to figure out what it means.
Students join the class for a variety of reasons. Raiche said while some may have a background of learning Spanish, others join because they have always wanted to learn a language.
The increasing number of grandchildren that may know Spanish has also prompted many seniors to start learning the language.
“Almost everybody wants to keep their mind active in old age,” Raiche said.
Several students even meet regularly in study groups to review outside of the twice-a-month classes.
“We need immersion at our age,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the number of students that attend a class varies every week, sometimes from four to 15.
The three classes recently celebrated with an annual fiesta June 21.
Bethany Kemming is at [email protected]