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Breaking down the language barrier, one hairstyle at a time

Barry McNamara
From left, Salon Company employees Karen Seats, Kitty Haskins, Angela Schisler, Jacquie Laws
It doesn’t have the drama of the Civil Rights showdown that occurred half a century ago when an African-American Monmouth College tried to get a local haircut, but every day, cultures collide when Monmouth’s Hispanic population attempts to purchase goods and services.

Thanks to an outreach by faculty member Louise Barbaro-Medrano, a group of local hairstylists is doing their part to soften the collision.

“A lot of the local Hispanic population wanted to start coming here,” said Angela Schisler, owner of the Salon Company in Monmouth. “It was hard to communicate with them, though. They had to bring their children. Even then, some of the information wasn’t communicated correctly.”

Knowing the phrase for “That will be $20” isn’t enough. The stylists had to understand such phrases as “I’d like a short bob with blonde highlights” and then deliver the proper results.

That’s where Barbaro-Medrano, a Salon Company regular and a lecturer in MC’s department of modern foreign languages, entered the picture.

“The girls said, ‘We’re getting a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and we don’t know how to communicate with them,” said Barbaro-Medrano. “I told them, ‘I should give you Spanish lessons,’ and they thought was a good idea.”

Barbaro-Medrano visits once a week for about an hour, working on basic Spanish skills with Schisler, Kitty Haskins, Jacquie Laws, Sally Price and Karen Seats. She found a website that featured nearly 500 Spanish terms related to hair and nails and, said Barbaro-Medrano, “I’ve incorporated that vocabulary into my own instruction, such as greetings and basic questions that might be asked.”

And the reaction?

“They’re loving it,” said Barbaro-Medrano. “We meet in the salon and we put out chairs together and we learn. I give them homework, and we go over that each week. It’s a lot of fun, and they’re really getting there.”

“Oh, we love her,” said Laws. “She’s very thorough. She’s also helped us learn more about the culture. She makes it fun, and I think we make her laugh, too.”

A “pool party” session was especially fun and memorable, according to both teacher and students.

“We’re able to introduce ourselves, make appointments and, I would say, consult about hair about 50 percent of the time,” said Schisler. “We’re still working on it. We haven’t really advertised it yet.”

With almost half a year of training under their belts, the group is definitely making progress, but they’ve had share of hiccups, too.

“The words for ‘money’ and ‘hurts’ are very similar, and I confused them when I was trying to talk to a younger male customer,” said Laws. “They all got a kick out of that.”

“I feel like I can read it before I can speak it,” said Schisler. “I don’t want to sound funny when I say the words. But Louise tells me that I have the best pronunciation on sounds.”

“She told me that, too, Angela,” laughed Seats.

Who does the group think is the best student?

“Sally,” said Laws. “She had Spanish in high school, and she studies regularly.”

“Once we get Spanish down, we’ll work on French next,” laughed Haskins. “It’s a love language, too.”