It’s a Wide, Wide, Wide, Wide World for Spanish instructor Ayali Molne

Laura Paull Articles, Featured, Travel, Viva Cuba! — By on August 9, 2012 1:56 pm

It was the year 2003. The plane took off from Jose Marti airport, heading to a foreign destination some 228 miles northeast.

“I was so sad to leave my family, but it was my first time on an airplane,” Ayali Molne recalls. She draws a huge breath and flutters her hands in the air to recreate her excitement:  “and I was like:  I’m traveling!”

As a Cuban citizen, Ayali, today a Spanish instructor at the JCCSF, had “zero opportunities to travel,” she says, “though it’s a little more open now.” Regardless, travel and the adventures that come with it count among Ayali’s great passions in life, which she tries to share with her adult students.

Spanish instructor Ayali Molne, a native of Havana, Cuba, builds a grammatical foundation for meaningful conversation.

If you’re thinking of signing up for one of the JCCSF’s frequent tours to Cuba – or any other travel to the Spanish-speaking world – acquiring some Spanish language skills is a good place to start. The JCC offers a variety of daytime and evening classes for adults, from the very beginning level to the advanced.

Having flown in the other direction – from Cuba to the United States  –  Ayali Molne is both a source of “native” information about that nation and a strong advocate for the benefits of travel .

Naturally, American students are very curious about a country so close to ours and yet so far away in terms of reliable information.

“I try to address their curiosity all the time, but at same time I don’t make it a class about Cuba, because I want them to learn more than just that,” she explains. “But I always have at least one class where I they can ask questions. They can ask me as much as they want.”

In Spanish, presumably.  In her classes, Ayali bundles cultural information with a strong language foundation. She received her degree in philology from the University of Havana, a field not well known to many Americans but which she describes as “literature and linguistics together, kind of.”

She then worked there as a professor of Spanish grammar.

“That’s why my students suffer so much,” she says slyly. “They ask me, ‘Do I have to learn this?’ and I say, ‘Yes. If you want to speak well’.”

Molne is a passionate advocate for international travel. When not teaching, she loves literature, music, dance and physical activity.

The ability to converse comfortably is the main goal of most of Ayali’s students, and she encourages Spanish speaking in the classroom from the very beginning. Moving towards fluency in conversation requires a combination of elements, from reading, to hearing how the words they are reading actually sound, to understanding how to put the words together. She uses short fiction, poetry and essays in her classes and plenty of audiovisual material.“It’s a combination of grammar and conversation. Without both they won’t go anywhere,” she says.

In the more advanced class, “Conversational and Cultural Spanish,” Ayali engages the class in discussions about things that one could imagine having in some cafe in Mexico City, Havana, Barcelona or Buenos Aires.

“I talk about strong subjects. I plan what I will say and what I want them to talk about – it could be politics, social problems, and also things that are very important for humans, like death, or spirituality. I find things that could be interesting or important for them and that I could take advantage of the class to make people think about their life and purpose.”

At the same time, all the conversations are based in the grammar they are studying.

“They respond so well,” Ayali says with evident pride in her students, “and the result is always incredible.”

As someone who has studied a variety of foreign languages herself, Ayali also understands the personal struggles we endure in learning to express ourselves in a new tongue. As a schoolgirl in Cuba, she heard a great deal of Russian spoken, because “we were surrounded by Russians all the time.”

Most of this population left the island by 1990 or ’91, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, but many had started families in Cuba and remained.

“In middle school,” she recalls, “was first year they started to teach us English. But they had Russians teaching us English…who didn’t know much more than me.”

She had better success studying French at the Alliance Francaise for four years and when she came to the United States, she decided on a whim to study Farsi –for no particular reason other than her attraction to the alphabet and sounds.

“I just love languages,” she says. “The whole [Persian] culture is very interesting.”

She also completed an online master’s degree through the University of Salamanca, Spain, a place she says she would love to visit.

“My family originally came from Spain –mostly from the Canarias – (Canary Islands) and I think I have to go!”

In recent years, she has traveled on vacations to Austria, Germany, Mexico, Malaysia, and Singapore. Spain, she says, is “up next.”

Because she emigrated legally, Ayali can return to Cuba without problems to visit her family, and has done so as recently as last month. Such visits enable her to keep abreast of the ongoing political and economic relations between her homeland and the US – a subject about which students often ask.

“I would like to see a better situation for both Cubans and Americans,” she says. “I want my country to keep being independent. But I also want my country to be happy and related with the modern world, and for people to be able to survive and enjoy life. I would like to see that combination.”

Of her approximately three years teaching at the JCCSF, Ayali says frankly: “I love it. And I’m being totally honest.  The whole environment –people so friendly and helpful –any good and new idea you have they support it.”

She also praises “the kind of people I teach — my students — the quality of humanity that we have here. How open they are… I know that many of the classes I teach here I wouldn’t be able to teach anywhere else.”

For registration and further information about Spanish classes, please contact Lara Morgan at 415.292-1299, ext. 1137, or by email at lmorgan@jccsf.org.

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