Conversation Circles: From Olá, Nǐ hǎo and Salam to Hello at Hopkinton Library

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Conversation Circle
The Hopkinton Public Library ELL Conversation Circle meets weekly to help participants hone their ability to use English in everyday life. PHOTO/JANE BIGDA

Talking about what they do in the winter, understanding idioms such as a piece of cake, and even hearing one of their members sing a Chinese opera song all are part of the English language learners Conversation Circle now going on at the Hopkinton Public Library.

The Conversation Circle is designed to provide English language learners (ELL) an opportunity to practice vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar in a comfortable environment. Emphasis is placed on providing conversation skills that reflect day-to-day life, such as a business phone call or navigating the grocery store. The Circle is flexible, reflecting the needs of participants.

The program is an outgrowth of the library’s five-year strategic plan to provide resources and experiences for the entire Hopkinton community that are welcoming, safe and respectful.

“Recognizing a community need, Jessi McCarthy [former acting library director] looked for someone to get the program going,” explained Barbara Champney. “The Friends of the Library responded as sponsors and I volunteered as coordinator.”

Run entirely by volunteers, including facilitators Janet Fannon and Ellen Deutsch, the pilot ELL Conversation Circle began in mid-October.

The dozen participants, who come from Brazil, China and Iran, meet on Friday mornings to discuss a specific topic related to everyday life such as celebrating a holiday or visiting a doctor’s office. But conversations flow from the focus to personal experiences and thoughts, resulting in a supportive group and growing friendships.

“Four of the women in our current group found out they each have a child in second grade, which drew them closer together,” said Champney. Another participant, who felt isolated since she moved to Hopkinton during the COVID-19 restrictions, joined the Circle to make friends in her new hometown. And at the Dec. 3 meeting, Lili Guo, a Chinese opera singer, performed for the group.

“The participants say they find the Conversation Circle a fun opportunity to practice their growing skills in English and to get to know one another,” said Champney, who added the one-hour meeting usually stretches to at least 90 minutes.

Many of the participants were recruited from two Hopkinton groups for recent immigrants. They speak two or three other languages, and although they know the basics of English, they want to become more fluent.

Based on the enthusiastic response from participants and facilitators, two new ELL Conversation Circles will start next month at the library. One group will meet on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. beginning Jan. 12 while the second will meet on Thursdays at 6 p.m. beginning Jan. 13. The weekly sessions for beginners and intermediate language learners will continue through the spring. The facilitators will include Beth Mezitt, Trish Perry, Renee Dean and Christine Clifford.

Individuals can register for the Conversation Circles by visiting HopkintonLibrary.org, clicking on the Calendar/Events menu bar, then navigating to the January calendar and selecting the date for the meeting they would like to attend.

Said Champney: “We hope to grow the program even more in the future” by adding advanced classes and individual tutoring and “approaching the schools to support children who need help.”

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