Today was ‘the first of the lasts’ for me, in terms of coming to the end of my time at the wonderful publishing house that is Routledge / Taylor and Francis before moving to Berlin. It was my last ever lunchtime Italian conversation class before I leave on the 24th March, and I really do feel like my time is nearly up now I’m under the two week mark…
So I thought I would write a ‘quick’ – but probably still waffly, knowing me – blog post about our humble little conversation club, in case anyone else working in a corporate environment and missing using their languages is encouraged to set up the same! (Now there’s a niche target reader for this post 😉
My work buddy Kimberley and I ‘founded’ our casual little conversation group a little over a year ago. We had bonded on the shuttle bus to our business park over the fact that she studied Italian as a main part of her degree, but hadn’t used it much since her year abroad, and that I had picked it up ab initio in my second and final years, learning very intensively for those two years but then only really dabbling in occasional trashy magazines in Italian ever since. Unlike the official ‘Languages at Lunch’ classes offered by an outside teacher and funded by our company’s Sports and Social Committee, the idea behind our Italian Conversation Class was just a place for people who like Italian to have an informal chat to practice their spoken language. No cost, no books, no agenda: just a room booking and occasionally some Italian treats to devour!
I had previously also been a member of the Spanish version of this club, which was never more than five people, so I didn’t have huge hopes for the attendance at our first few Italian sessions. However, ever since we sent our initial email out via the Sports and Social Committee to the whole of Taylor and Francis, we have been constantly surprised by just how many people are keen to come along – a wonderfully eclectic mixture of beginners, intermediates like myself and Kimberley and fluent natives like the lovely Paola! It probably sounds hard to manage, with such differing levels, but we’ve always made it work. Although sometimes poor Paola gets so confused by our pidgin Italian that she can’t think of the right Italian word for the gaps in our stuttering Ital-glish conversations!
Attendance obviously fluctuates every week, depending on who has meetings or lunches or holidays, but we have rarely had to cancel a session and I always really enjoy them. As I mentioned, Paola patiently acts as a walking dictionary, and we cover themes ranging from our general work lives, to holidays, to experiences learning languages – and then of course food. We always end up mentioning food, one way or another! The universal language of enjoyment 😉
So, it seemed somewhat fitting, both with our conversation history and with Routledge tradition, that all three of the first three people to arrive to today’s session had baked something delicious! Kimberley had somehow brought a whole tub of melt-in-your-mouth buttery chocolate biscuits with her on her train journey in from London; Paola had been so lovely as to bake a wonderfully light and dangerously moreish ricotta and chocolate sponge cake, and I made some chocolate orange biscotti! I wish I had taken some photos, as it was quite the feast, but I was really touched by their baking offerings for my last session. Unfortunately, some of our regulars couldn’t make my last session today, but a very keen beginner called Helen also came along and helped us demolish the sugary goodness, and we did manage to utter some Italian sentences alongside mouthfuls of cake!
I should probably stop this blathering post there, but just finish by saying that setting up this little conversation exchange group involved almost no effort on mine and Kimberley’s part, but has been a real fortnightly treat for us all – an escape from our screens and a chance for us all to feel like we’re still practicing the language skills we slaved to master (or semi-master, in my case!) at university or wherever. It’s not only been good for feeling like we’re reviving our Italian, but also for meeting people from across the business. Taylor and Francis is subtly, but fairly strongly, divided between the Books and Journals businesses, so it’s been great to have an opportunity to break down those non-existent barriers and meet some other interesting colleagues, and learn more about the ‘other side’ to the business – in italiano, of course! I really recommend anyone ‘stuck’ in the corporate world not using their linguistic talents sets up something similar.
So thanks to Kimberley, Paola, Scott, Eirian, Helen, Heike, and anyone else who’s attended over the past year or so – I’ll really miss you all, and thanks for the cake 🙂
And if anyone reading this knows of a German/Italian/English exchange in Berlin, please let me know!