I really do believe that the best way to learn a language is to use it. In Dijon we have numerous groups where people can meet to speak English: the English table at the Café Polyglotte, SpeakEnglish at Caf and Co and numerous onvasortir ‘sorties’. In October I started organizing my own onvasortir English Afternoon Teas, which have been a real success. Every fortnight or so a group of about ten of us meets in a different Dijon café and speaks English for a couple of hours. We have many regulars, as well as new faces each time and a range of levels. Everyone who comes is always ready to speak English and even though some members struggle to find vocabulary, I have been extremely impressed at their determination not to resort to French!
Admittedly before I started the afternoon teas, I did have some reservations. Firstly, would I feel as if I was teaching? I didn’t want to feel as if I had to constantly correct people or have the onus on me to keep conversation going. Secondly, would the more advanced English-speakers in the group resent having to speak to those with a lower level? Advanced English speakers are great, and I wouldn’t want them to decide not to come back. Finally, would it get boring after a couple of meet-ups with the same people? We might run out of things to talk about.
I am delighted to say that none of these fears have come to bear. For the first, I think that being married to a bilingual Frenchman, I am more than capable of having a conversation in English without feeling the need to correct mistakes. I can still relax, drink tea and eat cakes without worrying about grammar and vocabulary problems. If people want English lessons they will take them. For the second, the advanced members of the group keep coming back, so they must be happy! I suppose they come to have the opportunity to put their English to use, so don’t really mind if the response is a little slow from the other party. And lastly, it doesn’t get boring. The people who come back every time have become friends and there are always new faces to keep things fresh.
And so, if you are an ESL teacher and you’d like to give a little back to the community that you’re living in (and network at the same time), this is a great way to do it. I would also love to hear from anyone who organizes meetings like this already!