BOUNTIFUL -- The gym at Bountiful Junior High School was transformed into something like a foreign country Tuesday, with Spanish greetings of "hola" all around.
More than 200 junior high students in Davis County put their Spanish-speaking skills to the test during the annual Spanish Fair.
Implemented by Wendy Parker, a Spanish teacher at Bountiful Junior High, the fair was first held 10 years ago as a way for students to experience speaking Spanish live.
Over the years, Spanish students from Kaysville Junior High and Millcreek Junior High in Bountiful have also participated in the event.
While in the gym, the students were allowed to speak only Spanish as they visited the various booths, including a post office, bank, photo shop, pharmacy, restaurant and souvenir booth.
If students were caught speaking English by a roaming teacher or advanced Spanish student wielding a plastic police badge, their passports were marked. If students received too many marks, their grade would be docked.
Speaking Spanish became only slightly difficult for friends Kearsa Hodgson and Victoria Thompson, both seventh-graders from Millcreek Junior High, as they sat in the eating area, attempting to have a conversation.
The discussion turned to the topic of how good their churros and Mexican drinks tasted.
"We can't really talk that much, but we're trying," Hodgson said of their limited Spanish vocabulary, explaining they've had only a year of Spanish.
"It definitely helps because it forces you to talk in Spanish. The hardest part has been trying to understand what others are saying."
In each student's passport were reminders for certain words.
Bountiful Junior High ninth-grader Linzee Cameron admitted she had a few English-speaking conversations -- albeit in a whisper -- with her friends when she didn't know what something meant.
The trickiest part for the students was making sure they didn't inadvertently start speaking English. Students would catch themselves halfway through a sentence before realizing they had reverted to English.
"The hardest part is making sure you keep speaking Spanish, so we plan what we're going to say, going over it several times before we get to the booth," Cameron said.
Even Bountiful Junior High ninth-grader Adriana Diaz, who has been speaking Spanish her whole life, caught herself speaking English as she helped operate the food booth.
"It gets confusing when you are trying to communicate, because you want to use English," she said.
She said she enjoyed the opportunity to help other students practice their Spanish, though.
"It's fascinating and funny sometimes to see how they struggle," said Diaz, who used a lot of hand gestures to help people understand.
For Parker, the students got exactly the experience she hoped for.
"We wanted to incorporate some fun with the learning," she said.
"The kids actually enjoy it and feel like, 'Wow. I can do this,' instead of just going into the classroom and memorizing words or conjugating verbs. Now they know they can actually carry on a conversation."
"The language is more difficult and more complex than just adding an o (to the end)," said Nate Jones, a Bountiful Junior High ninth-grader.
He noted that Spanish isn't that hard to learn because its rules are so definitive, as compared to English, where there are many exceptions to the rules.