Intercambios fosters connection

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Getting across the language barrier

Blakely Hay (right) converses in Spanish with Mary Ann Wofford at Intercambios in Depot Park in Dillon. M.P. Regan photo

The great bilingual divide can be bridged over the top of a picnic table at Depot Park in Dillon on Thursday evenings.

Each week, Intercambios offers people the chance to sit for an hour in the downtown Dillon park and converse in Spanish and English to gain practice in the two languages most often used in Dillon and in the entire Western hemisphere.

“I am doing this because I want to build connections and opportunities for Spanish-English conversation in Dillon,” said local Intercambios founder Blakely Hay, who got the idea for the event from similar ones she saw being staged when she attended school in Mexico.

“I thought, how cool it would be to create a bridge where we could connect and have a conversation. I know a lot of people in town who speak Spanish and want to get more practice with it; and I know a lot of people who speak some English and want to practice it. And so I wanted to create an event that makes that possible.”

To those ends, Intercambios features a half-hour of practice in Spanish speaking and a half hour of English speaking each week, in a supportive, nopressure environment.

“Learning another language is really hard—it takes a long time,” said Hay, who worked for both Beaverhead County High School and Dillon Elementary School District #10 before moving to the local Patagonia outlet.

“A lot of people think it’s easier to learn language as a kid because your brain is more able to do it. That’s a languagelearning myth. It’s more about having the time and caring teachers. As adults, we are more impatient and pressed for time. We just don’t have the time. You need time and exposure to another language. And that’s hard to find,” said Hay, who emphasizes patience and kindness in exchanges at Intercambios.

“You have to take a risk to have a conversation with people in another language. It’s intimidating, so it was great to have the people here we had here,” said Hay of the friendly, low-key folks who attended the opening session of Intercambios.

“The atmosphere is really welcoming. It wasn’t like, let’s sit down and work. It was more, let’s connect,” said Aracelli Ramirez of what she found at the first session of Intercambios.

“My parents were not English spakers growing up, so something like this would have been perfect for them,” said Ramirez, a University of Montana Western student who spent most of her early years in Wyoming.

“I knew I had to get involved somehow,” said Ramirez, who found herself acting as a translator for much of her first session at Intercambios.

“I am getting a lot out of it, too. It’s been awhile since I’ve had these kind of conversations in my native language,” said Ramirez, a member of the UMW cross country team who is majoring in biology.

“It was very helpful in making you think about the different phrases and words, different ways to say things, so that the person understands what I am trying to say,” said Dillon’s Mary Ann Wofford, who grew up with an Hispanic mother but still spoke English in her childhood home.

“We spoke English in the house because my dad did not know Spanish. My mom regretted not teaching it to us,” said Wofford, who has found herself using Spanish often while working in Dillon.

“It’s literally a superpower to be bilingual,” said Hay of a skill that’s become increasingly valuable. “It opens up a new way of

“It opens up a new way of understanding your surroundings.”

Originally slated for Jaycee Park, Intercambios moved away from its initial location due to the work on the waterline project around that park. For its debut, it moved to nearby Depot Park, where Hay says it will remain.

“I honestly think Depot Park is a better place for us,” said Hay. “So, we will just stay at Depot for rest of summer.”

For more information about Intercambios, contact Blakely Hay at 406-202-2555.