9

I took over organization of a Conversation Practice meetup about 6 months ago.

The group has no specific language focus, but being in Amsterdam, it's common to have people learning English, Dutch, and a number of other European languages (Spanish and German are the most common, with occasionally French, Portuguese, and occasionally others; Japanese, Icelandic, etc).

When I joined (before taking over the organizational aspects), regular attendance was 8-12 people. A typical 2-hour meeting would consist of (very informal) introductions, then we'd split the group into common languages. Typically there would be two or three groups of 2-5 speakers each. A German group, a Spanish group, and a Dutch group, for instance.

Due to the lack of "official" languages, each week would have a different composition of speakers and groups.

Since the beginning of the year, participation has dropped drastically. Now we average 2-5 in attendance each week, and rarely enough to split into a second group. Most newcomers don't return. Many repeat attendees return only every few weeks.

I'm looking for suggestions on how to attract and retain attendees to such a group. What has worked for others? Do we need more structure (perhaps by limiting ourselves to a few select languages)?

I realize there can be many specific factors hurting us that aren't related to the content of our meetings, etc (publicity, location, schedule, etc). I'm not asking about these aspects. I'm assuming that if someone came once, then these things are not the reason they don't attend again. So I'm interested in reducing the number of people who come once, and never or rarely again.

What has worked for you as a group organizer? As a group attendee, what aspects enticed you to return? Which aspects pushed you away?

10
  • 2
    I realize this question may be too broad as it is. I'm posting this as a bit of an exploratory question, to test the waters. Do we want to address questions related to such community organizations? If so, how should such questions be phrased to be on topic, etc?
    – Flimzy
    May 21 '16 at 11:00
  • 1
    @fi12: No, the question is essentially, "How do I make a language meetup relevant so that people return?" If it's still off-topic, that's fine, but it shouldn't be off-topic due to a misunderstanding.
    – Flimzy
    May 21 '16 at 15:01
  • 2
    @fi12: It's specific to language learning if it's a language learning meetup.
    – Flimzy
    May 21 '16 at 15:03
  • 2
    Offer suggestions on how to make it on-topic. As it is, I'm not convinced you even understand the question, because your criticisms seem a bit off the mark to me.
    – Flimzy
    May 21 '16 at 15:03
  • 1
    Of course they will. Did you read the part that says I realize there can be many specific factors hurting us that aren't related to the content of our meetings, etc (publicity, location, schedule, etc). I'm not asking about these aspects.? I'm specifically asking about how to make the meetup more relevant for language learners. If that's not clear or obvious, I'll accept that it needs to be re-worded.
    – Flimzy
    May 21 '16 at 15:06
4

Such a group as you describe: multilingual, various native languages and interested in speaking languages (this last point is obvious if not they would not have come in the first place, not even to see what it was about) is the perfect place to work on intercomprehension.

For the sake of the majority of the visitors to "Language Learning" I have been looking for literature on intercomprehension in English but unfortunately there's hardly anything. I'm not surprised since it's an aspect of language teaching that has so far had little impact in the English speaking world. An introduction to the subject can be made through Wikipedia but the English entry is barely a stub and gives little insight; I recommend the German (the best to this day) or French entries for a better insight. If not for some languages Wikipedia has an entry Mutual intelligibility that is related to intercomprehension - I write "related" because I think "mutual intelligibility" is part of the more global concept of "intercomprehension". And the whole concept holds its place in the approches plurielles ("pluralistic approaches", the concept was first used in French), an introductory article (available in English) can be found on the site of the ECML (European Centre for Modern Languages).

The leading country in intercomprehension is Switzerland, which is quite understandable since it has four official languages. Babylonia ("The SwissJournal of Language Teaching and Learning") often publishes articles about incomprehension. A key article is Louise Dabène's1 Comprendre les langues voisines: pour une didactique de l’intercompréhension.

I wanted to place the concept before the "how" and now back to your language meetings. The group could agree on a topic they would like to discuss and each participant would prepare a few sentences in their own language, depending on length of meetings either on the spot or for next session2.
When ready they speak up in turns in their own language. You must ask them to speak not too fast and to articulate, which is not that obvious to people who aren't used to speaking in public in a so to speak teaching situation. Listeners are assigned two tasks :

  • Spot words they recognize or guess the meaning of. Words in a foreign language you don't speak can be recognized for various reasons. First the proper names, spelled the same but with different pronunciations. Then words of the same Indo-European roots. And the meaning of words can also be guessed because when we speak we make gestures, even unconsciously, and what we see is just as important as what we hear in comprehending speech3.
  • Spot at least one word they cannot guess the meaning of but would like to understand (you can tell them for example because they feel the meaning of that word is important for the global comprehension of what has been said), this calls on their aural capacity and memory.

"Speeches" should be prepared in writing for further reference in the course of the exercise but they should avoid reading the text. Listeners may take notes while listening if they wish. This type of activity can make people aware of all that is implied in communication and that multiple languages are not necessarily a barrier in comprehension but, on the contrary, can lead to personal and mutual enrichment.

That is only a starter activity I am sure plenty more activities can be imagined as you go along. Here's an activity for kindergarten children that could be adapted for adults (in French).

Babylonia is multilingual and articles are published in various languages, some in two languages, a few are in English, but German, Italian and French are the most frequent. So you can type "intercomprehension" and "Interkomprehension" in the search engine - some articles can only be bought. The whole of this issue deals with the subject of pluralistic approaches to languages and cultures. This article (available in German) deals with this website: Fremdsprachen sind nicht fremd!4 which is interesting for anyone who wants to know more about intercomprehension and offers a set of modules to help teachers work along this line. Available only in French and German.

This flyer (in French only) from the French Department for Culture about multilingual approaches gives a nice example on how to work on a multilingual story - for young children but the idea can be adapted to adults.


1Louise Dabène was a French researcher who pioneered work on intercomprehension.
2 Which could be a motivation to attend.
3 Writing this I am fully aware of not including visually impaired people. I apologize.
4 German, meaning "Foreign languages aren't foreign".

0

I've never attended a language learning meetup, but if I was organizing one, I would:

  • Make the meetup free (having a paid membership could turn away some potential participants)
  • Host the meetup in a relatively central place (so it's not a huge distance from all of your participants' residences)
  • Focus on one language (not only does this make everything easier for one another, it prevents the situation where a person learning Japanese has no one to speak Japanese to)
  • Have some sort of language lottery where every week each participant comes, he or she gets 1/4 of a language lottery ticket that can be used to put into a lottery for a free language lesson from a local tutor (perhaps make a deal with a local tutor)
  • Don't meet too often, but make sure you meet at least a month (too many or too little meetings can make a participant lose interest)
  • Make the meeting fun: perhaps play a language game of some sort that you leave incomplete at the end of one meeting, so that you can finish it in the next meeting

Just some ideas, not sure if they'll actually work.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.