Starting a Spanish practice group at my job
July 15, 2018 11:55 PM   Subscribe

I emailed my workplace to gauge interest in a lunchtime Spanish language practice group and got 50 enthusiastic replies. Great! Now I need to actually start the thing, and figure out how to make it fun and effective.

I've been taking Spanish classes weekly for 6 months, but have not been practicing enough. I can have basic conversations with my Spanish instructor, who speaks slowly and uses simple words, but have a small vocabulary and can barely converse with most native speakers.

My workplace is ~2000 people, so most attendees won't know each other. I can reserve a weekly meeting room and invite everyone who expressed interest, but I need to figure out what comes next:

1. How do I make it enjoyable for speakers of varying fluency levels? The interested folks range from "I'm fully fluent" to "I've been studying it for 3 weeks!"
2. How much structure do we need? I don't have much time for weekly prep work, so it's tempting to just tell people to show up and talk to each other. However, I'm concerned that could be socially awkward / more likely to fizzle out.
3. What are some good conversation prompts? Other ideas for keeping conversation flowing in a language I barely speak myself? I'm not a super chatty person even in English!
4. Maybe watching Spanish TV together would be fun. Does that seem like a good idea in this context? Suggestions for beginner-friendly, workplace-appropriate shows or other media?

I’m most interested in advice from people who have run or participated in groups like this. Other tips on fitting language practice into a busy schedule are also welcome, tho. I already know about Duolinguo.
posted by introcosm to Writing & Language (4 answers total)
I would suggest creating two separate groups- one for beginners/learners and one for people who are fluent or nearly fluent. You might want to get a volunteer (or paid) fluent person/instructor/tutor to join the beginner group, or could have rotating fluent guests. When I was in grad school, a medical student who was interested in learning Spanish set up a group like this. There were only a couple of beginners, and the group quickly morphed into a social club for fluent Spanish speakers (most of whom were grad students or professors from Spanish-speaking countries). We met monthly either at someone's house or went out to dinner at a restaurant. It was a very warm and friendly group and everyone really enjoyed it (particularly those from abroad) but I don't think we would have lasted long if the focus was on helping beginners rather than socializing in Spanish. We felt kind of bad that the woman who originally started it didn't end up continuing after a couple of meetings, but it sort of naturally evolved into a social group for fluent speakers rather than an educational one.
posted by emd3737 at 3:18 AM on July 16, 2018

I have a weekly meet up with a friend albeit for Norwegian rather than Spanish but principles may apply. She is a lot more fluent than me but it still works.

Things we do include:
* object guessing game - one person thinks of an object, other asks questions in language
* translating story. Take it in terms to read a paragraph of a story in Norwegian then try to translate. Good for testing pronounciation. Similarly reading comics.
* try to describe something you did recently and have the other person see if they understand.

Obviously a bigger group is more difficult. You might want to arrange to split it off but I would recommend some mix of abilities otherwise the less fluent people don’t get the benefit of getting small pronounciation updates and getting more complicated sentences.
posted by Wysawyg at 4:00 AM on July 16, 2018

Definitely put some structure around it. We did this at my work, and one of the more frustrating issues (at least for me, who is probably a more enthusiastic language learner) was that people would revert to English constantly, I think partially because there was just a lot of general chatting rather than something for people to focus on in the context of trying to improve their language skills. If you can afford to split it by skill, definitely do this also.
posted by ryanbryan at 4:15 AM on July 16, 2018

I like the idea of structured games that wysawyg mentioned.
Some group organization: Since it will be a while before everybody knows everybody else, consider a visual marker of fluency level - supply a few different colored dot sticker to wear, to give people a sense of how to start a conversation and who might be fun to talk to. Since there's a definite appeal to "socializing in spanish" but it also stinks to be off in a corner while everybody chatters on saying things you can't understand, being able to identify other beginners might help.
Consider a weekly discussion topic - email "this week we'll be talking about pets and animals, so try (website) to look up some words and practice that vocabulary" (or cooking, or vacations, or families, or music, or whatever)
Consider timed round-robins: if lunch is an hour long, tell everybody to form into a group of 2-4, and then at the point that most people have finished the actual eating (say 30 minutes), suggest they reform and talk to someone new for 10-15 minutes, and then switch again to someone new for the last 10-15 minutes. Or use one of those segments for a big group discussion or round-the-room icebreaker. Could encourage one of those short segments to be with someone at same level (same color sticker) and one different.
posted by aimedwander at 12:53 PM on July 16, 2018

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