BRADENTON -- A group of 17 people inside a South Manatee Library watched 39-year-old Maribel Acosta of Bradenton, who made her intentions clear: She was there to teach basic Spanish so they can start a conversation in everyday encounters with Spanish speakers.
Each student held a sheet of paper with an illustration of a man's face on it. Arrows and Spanish words pointed to parts of his face: "el bigote" for mustache, "el pelo" for hair.
One by one, Acosta ran through each word on the sheet, echoed by her students.
"Does anybody know how to say 'nose' in Spanish?" she asked the group.
A few said "nariz."
Acosta nodded in agreement and repeated the word.
"We're going to roll that 'r,' " she said. "And I've told my girls before -- we Cubans roll our r's a lot. Puerto Ricans, I think, don't roll that 'r' as bad as we do. ... Sometimes you'll hear me really rolling that 'r' and it's just because I'm Cuban and we talk like that. I'm sorry about that."
Some students laughed,
which happens often in Acosta's free basic Spanish class.
The class was started at a whim in October when a manager at the library, 6081 26th St. W., Bradenton, approached Acosta about volunteering to teach a class.
It caught on.
"We have so much fun in that class. There's so many different people from so many different places. ... Usually they're snowbirds, but we do have a couple local ladies that do live in Bradenton," Acosta said. "We don't like to keep things stuffy. We like to laugh."
This recent Tuesday evening was the first class for 75-year-old Linda Buchhart of Bradenton, who asked Acosta about different Latino dialects. She learned each nationality has its own vocabulary for certain words.
"I wanted to learn because a lot of people down here are of the Spanish culture and you've got to be able to communicate with everybody, for pity's sakes," the retired real estate appraiser said. "When I go around (town), I see many people of a Hispanic background."
Buchhart said, at her age, she has trouble finding the right words.
"What I learned was I think it's going to be fun," she said of the class. "We're speaking Spanish rather than 'bookworming' Spanish. I should be able to pick up something that I will be able to use."
Bucchart said she recently discovered Jose's Real Cuban Food, a restaurant in Bradenton. She said she looks forward to tackling the menus in other Latin restaurants.
"When you walk into a restaurant or a store, everybody has signs. We take it for granted that it will be in English but I notice some aren't," she said. "We have to be able to comprehend a little bit."
During the class, Sandy Mahler, 64, of Bradenton, induced a few chuckles from her peers during a conversation exercise with a friend. She said it's nice to connect with a group of people willing to converse in another language.
"Learning any language at an older age ... it's certainly healthy for you to expand your mind and it keeps you sharp," she said. "If I run across someone who speaks Spanish, I'd like to acknowledge that I know what they're saying."
For information on the basic Spanish class at South Manatee Branch Library, contact 941-755-3892.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.