WEST TOWN — In a dimly lit back room at the Lincoln Tavern, nine people sipped on beer and wine on Tuesday night and recreated a story on par with the sauciest of Spanish soap operas.
"Pistola, boom boom boom," said Elaine Winer, a retired public schools Spanish teacher directing the night's "show." With her hand formed like a pistola (Spanish for gun), she acted out the story's essential vocabulary words.
Winer, who now runs ElenaChicago teaching Spanish to adults, repeated the words over and over, and the students repeated them with her. Then, Winer pulled volunteer student "actors" into the scene, one by one.
A 20-year-old man in jeans and a grey hoodie was transformed into "Ricardo" — a tall, handsome Spanish man who loved to dance salsa and ride his bicicleta. Another student actor was introduced as Ricardo's mistress, "Carmen."
The scene was set: a candlelit dinner for Ricardo and Carmen paired with a massive fake bottle of vino. The five actors, under Winer's guide, read from the scripted note cards and acted out the soap opera-esque love triangle that ended in a double homicide.
"Estas muerto," said Winer, motioning excitedly for one of the actors to lay down and "play dead." He cocked his head to the side and laid down flat on the carpeted floor.
Winer, who lives in Bucktown, teaches classes at local bars like the Lincoln Tavern, 1858 W. Wabansia Ave., in a way that helps students pick up a language more easily, she said.
"The language gets into their heads without them thinking about it," said Winer, 62, who taught for 30 years in Deerfield. The stories "mimic how we naturally learn language."
Winer said her method of teaching Spanish through recreating stories also aligns with research on how the brain absorbs information: The more meaningful and even humorous the language, the more memorable it will be for the student.
"It's easier when you learn in context of a story," said Jeanne Lonoua, a wholesale produce distributor in her 40s who had never taken Spanish before Winer's class. "It's conversational, so you remember more."
Dan Caplan, a 20-something biomedical engineer, said he often does business with Spanish speakers, and since beginning Winer's class, many of his colleagues and the people he does business with have noted his increased vocabulary.
"When I do talk to people at work now, I can pick out a lot of words," he said.
Winer said because her students engage in conversaciones throughout each session — practicing the essential words and discussing the story — they build fluency and proficiency.
"The most important skill my students take away is confidence," said Winer, "and that confidence pushes them to try using Spanish in real situations like at a restaurant or in a taxi."
For more information on Elaine Winer's immersive Spanish classes and to check out future locations, visit her website.