As if the benefits of learning a foreign language aren’t fruitful enough in making you a more worldly person, research has shown that it can help beef up your brain – the cerebral cortex to be exact, which controls nearly all of your brain power: reasoning, visual processing, planning, and memory. Learning a new language can also enlarge your hippocampus, the part of the brain that also helps with long term memory forming.
Pam Eastham, the French group’s leader, tells me that the group started in October 2003 and has always met on a weekly basis, which although a bit of a commitment all members at times have weeks off because of family events and holidays. Pam is also involved with the Twinning Association and members of the group have on two occasions entertained the French visitors.
Pam sets an excellent example as to how to share the fun of organising a meeting – she says that although she is the named leader the group has developed in a way that means they all get the chance to lead the group. Pam says the group has gelled well and that everyone contributes every session and no-one seems to dominate the group. She likes the fact that the group has several long-term members, but an occasional new member adds a new perspective.
Each week the group meets in a different member’s house and it is up to that person to provide coffee and biscuits and decide and arrange the agenda for that morning. In this way a wide variety of content is provided.
The sessions in the past have included: reading and translating a news article, practice with numbers and dates in French, listening to a recording of a song in French and translating it, and perhaps even singing it (they’re good too – I’ve heard them), reading and translating a French poem and playing (in French) games such as “20 Questions”. They have endeavoured to improve members’ French accents by practice and listening to recordings, done some role-play where one member assumes the role of, for example, a doctor or travel agent and deals with enquiries from the other members, and from time to time a little grammar. On a couple of occasions members have composed and read their own continuation of an unfinished story told at the previous session – this apparently was very inventive. Usually at the beginning of the sessions members are invited to describe in French their personal news (“nouvelles”) since the previous session, which often leads to discussions. No homework is set, but some members spend time preparing their “nouvelles”.The individual’s interests also create variety in the topics that are discussed and translated.
For a more personal taste of one of their meetings visit the Contents/French Group section posted on the website; it sounds great fun but unfortunately this group is full.
In our U3A we have just the one foreign language group although there have been requests for German for beginners and Spanish, intermediate & advanced but we do need group leaders for these and the way the French group is run is a good example to follow.