Arizona Republic
May 31, 2007

Author: Geri Koeppel, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3

Gloria Nelson of Mesa took Spanish in high school and college, but like many who don't practice often, she needed a refresher.

Instead of signing up for a typical class through a community college or adult learning program, she found the Spanish Place in Tempe.

It's a laid-back way to keep up language skills without the pressure of homework and tests. Participants pay a monthly fee of $95 and can drop in to any of the classes and conversation groups, which are held evenings and Saturdays.

"It's a no-pressure, friendly environment where you can learn without stress," Nelson said. "If you have to travel a lot or work a lot, you can come whenever you want."

On a Tuesday night, Nancy Lewis, owner of the Spanish Place, leads a conversation group with people of all levels. They sit in a cozy small back room with a sofa and chairs while drinking coffee and eating sweets that a few of the students provide.

Jackie Rifkin of Phoenix talks in Spanish about seeing a play and doesn't know the word for "usher." This stumps Lewis, too. She asks for a diccionario (dictionary).

Lewis' Spanish flows musically and her pronunciation is excellent, but she is not a native speaker. In fact, she was a French major in college and taught herself Spanish because she was interested in it.

"While I was going to graduate school, to get extra money, I started teaching Spanish," she said. "Some of my students liked me as a teacher so much, they encouraged me to do private classes."

She started holding classes in coffee shops until she was booked every night. She opened the Spanish Place in June 2006 and is offering a 25 percent discount in June in honor of the anniversary.

People want to learn or re-learn Spanish for many reasons, Lewis said. Some need to use it on the job. Others want to travel. Still others marry into a Spanish-speaking family.

Bill Memo of Scottsdale uses Spanish sometimes to help customers at the grocery store where he works. Memo said he likes the reinforcement of the grammar classes.

"You don't do one thing and forget about it," he said. "You go over it and over it. My Spanish really improved here."

But students don't only practice the language when they come in. A big part of Lewis' philosophy, she said, is "learning about the people and their history and their traditions."

Each month is devoted to a different Spanish-speaking country, and students can watch a film, read and discuss a book (in English or Spanish) and browse National Geographic articles about that particular nation.

The Spanish Place

Where: 3400 S. Mill Ave., Tempe.

Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Cost: $95 a month, or $25 a day (25 percent discount during June). Free 6 to
9 p.m. Fridays for open house, movie night and game nights.

Information:, (480) 430-9060, or e-mail