New faculty member debuts Spanish Club

A group of students and a professor sitting around a table
Angela Rodriguez Mooney, PhD
Angela Rodriguez Mooney, PhD

Oct. 17, 2023 – DENTON – Foreign language is something most of us study at some point in high school or college. Sadly, that study frequently fades once we leave school and the language goes unused.

One of the most recent additions to the Texas Woman's University faculty is trying to stop that linguistic erosion.

"I want to create a space for everyone here to connect and to practice Spanish," said Angela Rodriguez Mooney, PhD, assistant professor of Spanish. "Some of them have studied Spanish in high school or they learned from family, but they don't have the opportunity to take classes just because they're busy. Life happens. And I was thinking that it would be nice to have this free option where we can just get together, and I thought it was very important to be open for everyone and all levels."

This fall, Mooney started the TWU Spanish Club, where students, faculty and staff of all levels of Spanish proficiency can gather and practice their Spanish through conversation and playing games. Spanish Club meets Mondays at 4-5 p.m. in the Classroom and Faculty Office building, CFO room 104.

"It's a little bit challenging because we have students who are native speakers and we have absolute beginners, but it works," Mooney said. "It's really neat to watch. The students who are from Mexico or Guatemala, they're just appreciative that there are other students who want to know about their culture and want to learn the language. They went through the same kind of challenges when they were learning English. So there is a real understanding. It's a kind environment. I don't get much involved. I'm just here, having my coffee and laughing. They take over, and it's fun. I think it's very neat."

Mooney emphasizes that it's through usage that a foreign language takes hold.

"It's the only way you learn," she said. "I tell my students, don't think you're going to learn all the vocabulary and then suddenly you're going to just start speaking. You got to start with the words you have and just use that. If you have four words, we're going to talk with those four words. If you don't practice, you kind of lose it."

But, she says, it may not be gone forever, and that's a big part of why she started the Spanish Club. It is not just for native Spanish speakers or Spanish-language students.

"If you have zero Spanish, you can come," she said. "And it works. It does. Because first we talk about being uncomfortable. If you do not understand, everything's fine. It's okay to be there. And I talk about my experience, about learning English and being in a room and understanding one word everybody was saying. We play games and we help with the words. We just want people to join us."

Mooney understands overcoming linguistic barriers. Spanish is not her first language, nor is English.

"I'm from Brazil," she said. "My native language is Portuguese, but I'm a heritage speaker as well. My family is from Spain and immigrated to Brazil in the 60s when my parents were kids. I see myself that we come from immigrants. I'm an immigrant from Europe."

Mooney's devotion to languages grew through college. After earning her bachelor's degree from Universidade Estadual Paulista (São Paulo State University), Mooney earned a graduate certificate in media management from New York University, a master's in romance languages from the University of New Orleans and a PhD in Spanish and Portuguese from Tulane University.

She brings that passion to TWU, where the demand for foreign language courses had eroded. Where the university once taught multiple languages, it was down to offering only Spanish from one professor, Will Benner, PhD. The addition of Mooney marks a renewed commitment to foreign languages.

"When I was interviewing, I asked if they would be interested in opening a Spanish club. The chair, Dr. West (Genevieve West, PhD), was very enthusiastic, yes, let's do it," Mooney said. "This is like my baby. We had good attendance at the first two meetings, 14-15 people. We have games and conversation starters. For the beginners, they can read and we answer, and we learn a lot about each other and their stories and their backgrounds. The backgrounds of our students are so amazing. The heritage speakers have great stories. They know so much about the border. They have stories that touch your heart. They can tell you a different narrative from what we hear in the news.

"The heritage speakers felt so appreciative that other people want to learn Spanish," Mooney said. "They're like, oh, you learn Spanish? That's great. Let me help you. They felt pride, so it was easy. Everybody was laughing at the end."

Visit the Spanish Club's website.

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Page last updated 2:38 PM, October 17, 2023