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York City residents will get a chance to sharpen their second-language skills with community interaction beginning Saturday, July 14, at the intersection of Princess and Pine streets.

The "I want to be bilingual" project was created by the Princess and Pine Infill Zoning District, a local community organization, to encourage city residents to expand their use of second languages.

The organization formed in January in the neighborhood of Princess and Pine Streets as a "grass roots project initiated by neighborhood residents, business people and property owners for the purpose of improving the neighborhood," according to its Facebook page.

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The program: The program encourages residents to participate in "conversational learning" that can include any language, not just popular languages such as Spanish, said Bob Wood, a member of the Princess and Pine Infill Zoning District and former United Way executive director.

Those interested can purchase buttons at participating neighborhood businesses and wear them in the neighborhood; the button signifies that the individual is willing to practice a second language with another resident in the community.

One button costs $3; two buttons cost $5. Proceeds to go to the Princess and Pine Infill Zoning District.

The rules are simple: Residents wear the button to signify they're willing to practice another language, they speak slowly in conversation, and they do their best to be helpful to those trying to learn a second language.

Businesses also have the opportunity to display a bilingual program welcome sign, which shows that the owner and employees are willing to converse in another language for educational purposes.

The program is intended to continue every day, without any sort of end date, in an attempt to continuously promote language education and community interaction.

However, Princess and Pine Infill Zoning District plans to hold neighborhood garage sales and have food trucks and music on Saturdays, Wood said.

A neighborhood melting pot: Wood said the idea came from a local Spanish teacher who would take her class to El Casero, a Dominican restaurant on 350 E. Princess St., and have the children speak Spanish.

"I thought that was a great idea and that we should turn it into something bigger," he said. "Everyone can benefit from this."

With this initiative, residents can not only learn other languages, they also can better interact with a growing community, he added.

"We want people to see that this is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in the city," Wood said. "We have an older white population, an established black population and an emerging Latino community. We want people to know that the melting pot idea can work."

Promoting a diverse community: Latinos Unidos of York, a local nonprofit Latino advocacy organization, is promoting the program.

The organization's founder, Louis Rivera, said events like these have taken place in the past but are "being promoted a lot more now."

"Social media has been really good in promoting these types of initiatives," he said. "We are promoting what York really looks like, which is a very diverse community."

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Rivera emphasized the need for the community's actions to reflect its diverse population.

"In order for us to have a better community, we need to embrace each other's cultures and languages. It starts with small initiatives like these," he said.

A neighborhood map showing participating businesses can be found on the Princess and Pine Infill Zoning District Facebook page or at participating businesses. Pamphlets with common phrases in Spanish are also available.
 

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