I'm the convenor of several Spanish groups for my u3a in Lincolnshire. I'm not a language expert and I firmly believe you don't have to be. The driving belief of the u3a (by the members for the members) underpins this. I write a monthly article on languages for my u3a newsletter and I produce a separate monthly Spanish newsletter.
I've been a member of the committee at my local u3a since 2022, supporting the Groups Convenor and Special Events.
My Spanish journey
I joined u3a about five years ago in order to access a Spanish language group in my local area. At that time I'd not heard a great deal about the u3a. The convenor of the Spanish group welcomed me along and after a shaky start with my own learning I soon felt that I was beginning to get the hang of a language I'd only come across briefly in my sixth form years but had never used.
After about a year the convenor announced they would be stepping down and as the room went quiet I felt that although I knew the least Spanish, I would be able to lead the group well enough.
That was back just before the Covid pandemic. So it's fair to say I took on a new challenge during challenging times. The group settled into a new norm as we all learned to grapple with a virus that seemed out of control alongside learning and supporting people with new skills such as Zoom. The group remained a lifeline to normality and it's fair to say that we all became a much more cohesive group during that time. We took opportunities to meet up and visit in a small group (in gardens, I recall) when the legislation allowed. Our group has continued to grow and has welcomed many new members since then.
Plans for the Future
The popularity of this group gave rise to the development of further groups such as Holiday Spanish, Beginners Spanish and more recently, an Advanced Spanish Group in our u3a. The growth and development of these groups has had a major impact on the development of other language groups that had closed since 2019.
I've developed links with other groups through Spanish which has led to an enrichment of ideas and shared initiatives. We meet up occasionally with another u3a Spanish group in our region to share tapas and conversation in a Spanish restaurant in Lincoln.
I've attended Spanish groups at the Yorkshire and Humber Region Summer school and have made good contacts through all of these opportunities. It's certainly made retirement a great deal of fun.
Learning a Language is Good for the Mind
I fully intended to make the best of my retirement years. I bought a boat and joined a sailing club, I went regularly to the gym; in fact I started to do many things I'd not had the time for while I was at work. However, I was never one to sit on my laurels. Having witnessed the steady decline of several members of my own or my partner's family, due to Alzeimers, I was determined to do everything that I could to keep my mind active.
I'd had a frenetic working life mostly spent in educational management and the research pointed to the need to continue to "exercise the mind." With both these factors to consider I felt that learning a language would be a good plan.
Spanish is the third most widely spoken language in the world after Chinese and English. You'll come across Spanish speakers on every continent. I've used it in North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The largest population of Spanish speakers is in the United States where about 40% of the population speak the language. The most unusual place I used my Spanish was on a cruise down the Bosphorus when I visited Istanbul.
What you need to know
You don't need an expert to lead a group. Take a look at the following resources to help you find out more and get started.
Why is Spanish so popular?
There are many reasons for this. Geographically, Spain is easily accessible by land sea and air from the UK making Spain, the Canaries and the Balearic Islands very popular with British tourists. Flight times are quite short and this also appeals to travellers when choosing a foreign destination. Many u3a members join Spanish groups in order to be able to use a little language when they are travelling as it can have a really big impact on the enjoyment a traveller experiences on a holiday to a Spanish speaking country.
Some u3a members have also stated that they began learning Spanish to be able to help a grandchild with homework at school. Others have read research about the value of learning a language to improve brain health in later life.
Whatever your reason, it's never too late to give a language like Spanish a go. It's not about how much you learn or remember, it's the very fact you tried that's important.
Are there any benefits to learning a Language?
The benefits to brain health are immeasurable. There's a great deal of research being done these days that is looking into the positive impacts of language learning. The research has been well reported in recent times across news websites such as BBC and through the national press.
Apart from the benefits of belonging to a group of like minded people, which has a social benefit, you'll find you will enjoy the new challenge of re-learning something you may have done in the past or that you're starting for the first time.
It's not about how good you become, it's the impact on trying that has such a benefit to your health.
There seem to be many similar words in Spanish and English, why is this?
Both English and Spanish have similar Greek and Latin roots. For this reason you'll notice many similarities such as words like agenda, capital, decisĭon and festival for example. These are known as cognates.
Languages continue to change and we now share many identical words across languages due to cinema, TV and music, new technology and travel. Words like paella, sombrero, and amigo are good examples.
The Spanish accent marks help with pronunciation and meaning, making it an accessible language to speak.
Everyone speaks English when I travel, it's so hard to use the language I'm learning
Don't let this put you off, it's been said many times before. When travelling abroad native Spanish speakers really do appreciate that you made the effort to say a few words. They'll probably tell you that you speak really well and this in turn will give you a positive boost to continue with your Spanish.
I can't make a group or time offered by my local u3a
There are several groups offered by Interest Groups Online for Spanish. You might find these are at a more convenient time. You'll find Interest Groups Online on the national u3a website under the learning tab.
My u3a has a Spanish group but its full. Is there anything I can do?
Spanish is very popular and many groups offer a waiting list that you might be able to join.
Have a word with the Groups convenor for your u3a. You might find that they are able to expand the programme offering more Spanish Groups if this continues to be a very popular subject. Members can also consider Associate Membership of another u3a if they have a group that your own association doesn't provide. Use a search engine like Google to find out if there are other groups near you.
Our Group has lost several members recently, What do we do?
Groups will change in number over time and numbers can fluctuate especially during the summer if there's a break. Numbers can also drop during the winter when the weather deteriorates. Sometimes members may select to join a group to prepare for a Spanish holiday and then may choose to leave once the holiday has occurred. Whatever the reason, it's always a good idea to keep a list of any new members who may want to join your group. Chat to your Membership Secretary or New Members Secretary, letting them know that you're looking for new members to join. You may have to revisit some of the content you've already used but this shouldn't be a problem as many people welcome the opportunity to revisit past learning from time to time.
My u3a no longer has a Spanish group, what can I do?
Don't Be Put Off! If your u3a doesn't run a language group for Spanish you might be able to link up with another u3a group to share ideas. Take a look at Interest Groups Online as there are several Spanish online groups.
Is it possible to run a mixed ability group?
Mixed ability is possible but it can be tricky to achieve so that everyone feels that they've got something from the group. When people join a group for the first time they may feel overwhelmed by the abilities of established members who already know a great deal. What can happen is that they eventually feel they're slowing the group down and then leave. Some mixed ability groups run successfully by splitting for some activities during the session and then come together taking turns to talk with different speaking partners each time.
I want to run a group. How do I get started?
Speak to key members of your committee who will be able to help. Your Groups convenor will be delighted to help. Put out an advert through your local u3a either in the Newsletter, through Beacon, on a Facebook page, or an advert or notice at a monthly meeting to gauge interest. Speak to other language group leaders or convenors to find out about the types of things they do in their groups. Although the language may be different, there will be some very similar ideas.
What if I can't find enough people?
Approach other u3a groups to see if they have interested members but no group yet. Again you may need the support of your committee here. Some u3a localities and regions offer a reciprocal arrangement between groups, you'll probably know if your area operates such an arrangement.
How do I arrange a first meeting for a new group?
Arrange a casual first meeting in a central location such as a cafe or similar. You may need to check with the cafe first to book a table. It's often best to select somewhere central with adequate parking. It's likely that you'll know how many people will attend this session ahead of time. If you need moral support you may be able to get your u3a Groups Convenor to attend to help out whether they'll be a member of the group or not.
What should I discuss at a first meeting?
There will be several things to discuss which will include:-
- Where to hold future meetings?
- How frequently should meeting take place?
- What day of the week and time would suit best?
- Who will be the named convenor?
- How will the group keep in touch?
What ability level should we run our group for?
Again this can be a brief discussion that you have with other potential members at the first session. Try to ascertain everyone's prior knowledge of the language. People generally fall into three categories which include:-
- Members who have no previous knowledge (ie Beginners)
- Members who learnt Spanish at school or in the past (ie Beginners – Beginners Plus)
- Members with more recent knowledge due to work or travel or living abroad. (ie Intermediate – Intermediate Plus)
What Should We Include in Our First Session?
It's often a good idea to start at the beginning with some general topics such as why everyone wants to learn the language and what prior knowledge each member already has. Get to know each other and introduce some basic vocabulary such as greeting each other in Spanish. There are plenty of instructional YouTube videos to get you started right from the very beginning if you want to use these. Take a look at the Resources File to see if there's anything here that would work for your group.
I will be adding files containing additional information about frequently mentioned topics. This is just a start and this section will continue to grow - watch this space
Please use these to find ideas. Get in touch and, if you want more help do ask. I'm always happy to talk about Spain, the language and it's rich culture.
Get in touch and, if you want more help do ask. I'm always happy to talk about Spain, the language and it's rich culture.