Great test grades in a foreign language course do not automatically translate into an ability to actually use that language to communicate in the real world. The "Friendly Conversation Groups" at the Brentwood Public Library were started to fill the gap between knowledge of grammatical norms and the ability to effectively communicate out in public.
Our first group, "Friendly English Conversation," started as a once-per-week meeting to practice English in a relatively stress-free environment. People were encouraged to open their mouths and try to converse, to get beyond the multiple choice test level of competency. This initial venture was a slow go! Participation was very sparse, often only two or three people, and one desperate leader trying to keep it going.
That changed when one of our ESL tutors started to bring her 4-6 students to the group. The slightly larger group created a more fertile environment and we began to style ourselves as "a cocktail party without the alcohol." Word of mouth spread and this one group has spawned two others, with a fourth to be added this autumn.
As library customers became aware of our English practice groups, they began to request that we consider other languages, particularly Spanish. We started a "Friendly Spanish Conversation Group" to address this need. Because the participants were divided between those whose goal was maintaining fluency vs. those who needed a basic introduction, we split the original group into a beginning and an intermediate/advanced level.
We now have participants from all four corners of the globe. With this blog we intend to maintain contact with each other and share our common experiences with a wider audience.