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Spanish-speaking Americans are typically expected to learn English as a second language. A York City organization is turning the table — inviting English speakers to do their part in communicating with the growing Latino community. 

"This is a way for us to reciprocate that. It's a two-way street," said York XL founder Salvador Galdamez.  

York XL finished up its first round of an eight-week Spanish language primer course on Sunday, Dec. 22, at Mi Caldero, 605 S. George St. The next round of courses will begin in 2019, in York XL's new office space at 7 E. Market St. 

The language courses are part of York XL's new undertaking called Conversational York. In addition to the classes, York XL will host language immersion events and a book club. 

Galdamez and Thais Carrero, vice chair of planning, said the language primers differ from a typical academic language course. 

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," Galdamez said. 

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York XL's primer class won't even cover the alphabet in the first lesson, Galdamez said. 

Rather than beginning with the tedious rules — masculine versus feminine words and conjugation of verbs, for example — York XL is focusing on teaching skills that can be used right away. 

"We want it to be fun, we want it to be engaging," Carrero said. "We want people to talk about food and drinks and the stuff they do every day." 

There are also few Spanish courses in the area, and those that do exist are expensive, Carrero said. 

York XL's next eight-week course will cost $135. Eventually, the course will be $150, Galdamez said. 

There are 20 students in each class. Those interested can register online at Yorkxl.com

Immersion learning: Galdamez said he had wanted to create a Spanish course for a while. However, the idea came together after Carrero went to Conversational D.C. events while interning in the Capitol in 2016. 

Conversational D.C. is an immersion language program where everyone at an event shows up and speaks in one chosen language, Carrero said. 

"You were there, and you knew you would make mistakes and sometimes you wouldn't even understand what people are saying, but just immersing yourself in that experience was just a different way of learning," she said.

With that in mind, York XL set out to create a language immersion-centered program in York. 

The organizers said they hope the skills learned in the classes will translate to a more welcoming environment for Spanish speakers in York.

"Our goal is for the Hispanic population to be able to go and do whatever business they need to do and have somebody that can at least try and talk to them," Galdamez said. 

After three levels of primer courses, advanced students will all learn the same grammar skills in addition to industry-specific vocabulary that could help in different scenarios, he said.

For example, a first responder could learn vocabulary that would be needed at the scene of a vehicle crash, Galdamez said. A banker may learn vocabulary centered on finance, he said. 

While York XL has plans to expand the program to include other language courses, beginning with Spanish is important to help the Latino community feel more welcome, especially in today's climate, he said. 

The classes also help show members of the Latino community, who often feel disenfranchised, that other people care about their culture and language, Carrero said. 

"It's going to make us feel prouder, and make us become more engaged in the community and in the decision-making process," she said. "It's going to help people just be themselves." 

Galdamez added that there's often talk about a lack of representation of Latinos "at the table." There are reasons for that, he said. 

One is the language barrier, he said. 

"But if we can create situations where meetings and such could be done in two languages, then we have a pathway for people to get involved," Galdamez said. "By extension, you get more connected to the community and the next (level) of engagement is wanting a seat at the table, or feeling like you have an invitation to be at the table instead of having to fight to be at the table." 

Future plans: York XL is tying aspects of Conversational York into its other upcoming programs. 

The Gardens of York program, which will create 10 connecting gardenscapes throughout the city, will include QR codes Yorkers can scan, Galdamez said. 

The codes will incorporate a language theme, allowing garden visitors to learn vocabulary as they go, he said. 

Galdamez also has plans for the future of the new office space at 7 E. Market St. The building itself is indicative of York's character — bringing together old and new aspects, he said. 

The East Market Street building is already home to York XL and the Community First Fund. Young Thinkers of York, a nonprofit that helps bring robotics to youth, is set to move in soon, Galdamez said. 

The aim is to bring York's "thinkers and doers" together in one space, he said. 

While there are many organizations doing their part to make York a stronger community, by bridging language barriers, Galdamez said, York XL helps the city and county become a more genteel place to live, he said. 

"Ultimately, that's one of the things we're trying to do. Just make this one of the kindest places to live in the world," Galdamez said. "Really, I think we can do it."

Visit www.yorkxl.com for more information about the organization and its upcoming language classes.

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