“Je m’appelle Jane.”
You know how with some friends you remember the first time you met them? This was one of those moments. And it was also the moment when I first became truly aware of all the power and magic of learning a foreign language.
I was thirteen or fourteen, on a camping holiday with my family in France. The people in the caravan opposite had a daughter around my age, and we’d ended up walking along the path – probably to the beach or something – at the same time. I hadn’t been learning French for long and wasn’t usually particularly outgoing, but I rummaged for something appropriate to say, took a deep breath and introduced myself.
“Je m’appelle Jane.”
“Et moi Carole.”
And so it began. We had a great time in France, spent lots of time together and ended up staying in touch after the holiday. We even created our own informal exchange programme, staying with each other’s families several times over the years. And yes, we’re still in touch today!
For me, learning French changed forever when I met Carole, because I was motivated in a completely different way. Up to then – if anything – I’d been motivated by wanting to get good grades. Now I was motivated by wanting to communicate with my new friend. Suddenly lots of the grammar and vocab I’d been learning fell into place and seemed more meaningful.
Carole and her parents didn’t speak English; my parents spoke even less French than I did. So I knew it was down to me, and even though I was very shy, I managed to summon up the courage to make the necessary phone calls in French to arrange my trips and let them know my flight details (no internet back then!).
The connection that came from friendship was a powerful motivator when it came to learning the language.
When Kirsty Major and I decided to set up the Conversation Club with Kirsty and Jane, that was one of the thoughts that went through my mind. I liked the idea of getting people together in a situation where, although the underlying goal is to improve their English, a major motivating factor is (hopefully) the fun conversation and friendship within the group. People get to know each other, share their stories, ask how things are going… and all the while – without focusing on it directly – they’re improving their English. Kirsty and I are there as an added safety net to offer native-speaker assistance if necessary, but really it’s all about the conversation and the connections.
We’re about to go into our third month of Conversation Club with Kirsty and Jane and still have room for new members. If you’d like to find out more, take a look here.