People all over Paris are talking. In English. In French. To make conversation. To make friends. For the fun of it. For the practice. Those are some of the reasons why conversation groups and exchanges have sprung up all over the city in the past few years.
There are about a handful that regularly advertise and a few others hiding behind the doors of non-profit organizations. Each offers something unique, and after spending hour upon hour memorizing the conjugated verbs in your Bescherelle book and having nightmares about the subjonctif,here's your chance to finally let your tongue do the talking. There's simply no better way to learn a language than by using it.
Following are some of my favorite groups. While some may be more social than serious about language, all bill themselves as a place to exchange conversation.
The American Dream Center language school augments its language classes by offering a one-night-a-week (Tuesdays 7-10pm) soirée buffet with wine and soft drinks open to the general public. For 55F, you can have a light dinner, mingle with people of many ages and backgrounds and practice mostly English, but some French, in free-form conversation.
Director Domingo Barbiery says that in the last two years, he's seen over 1,500 people come to the soirée, about 50 each week, 20 of whom are weekly regulars.
Two-year-old Konversando, run by Riccardo Fadanelli, is for serious language practice. Francophone participants are tested and required to have a high level of English. Sessions are two hours long, two per evening, Monday through Friday. French is spoken one hour, English the other, in small groups of two or three people. Some members also come to practice Italian, German and Spanish. Promoted as "neither a social club nor a language school," language practice is the primary goal. The initial "trial session" is 50F, there is a 100F one-time registration fee and minimum participation of one time per week is 150F per month. Drinks are on the house.
Parler Parlor was started last March by American Adrian Leeds. It offers free-form conversation in French and English with its members of more than 33 different nationalities. Sessions are held three times a week (Tuesday evening, Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning) at Berlitz France Champs-Elysées and starting February 10 will hold sessions twice a week (Monday and Wednesday evenings) at Berlitz France La Défense. Adrian makes groups of six people, balancing anglophones and francophones to speak 45 minutes in French and 45 minutes in English. The first session is free and a membership entitles you to come as often as you like. Membership ranges from 200 to 900F, depending on its duration. Discounts are given to native anglophones, students of Berlitz and to members' renewals. Regular member, Christie Austin, commented "It's become a habit I never want to miss a group! What a great way to practice my French and to meet interesting people."
Speak Easy is the newest kid on the block, run by New Yorker Linda Law, every Sunday from noon to 1:30 or 2pm at the restaurant Rose Thé. For just 40F, you'll get brunch (coffee or tea, juice, pastries, tartines,eggs Benedict with salmon, sunny-side-ups, omelets, bacon, sausage, ham, potatoes) and informal conversation in French and English with all those multinationals seated around you at one long table. Linda introduces a topic and then the francophones must speak about it in English and the anglophones must speak in French. Anywhere from eight to 20 show up and it's best to reserve in advance.
Michael and Véronique of Teatime=Talktime invite you to a private home Saturday evenings from 5 to 8pm for snacks, tea, soft drinks and free-form conversation. You'll have the chance to mingle among the 45 to 60 people who come and practice either your French or English. It can be a great way to meet people comfortably as practicing French or English isn't strictly enforced. Cost depends on what you can afford, but is under 50F and you must call to reserve.
A benefit to members, the volunteer-run WICE French/English conversation group has been around the longest and is held in the organization's basement rooms Monday evening and Wednesday and Friday afternoons. The first time is free so it's a great way to get to know WICE and the group itself. Members of WICE have traditionally been "trailing spouses," but the conversation group gets a broader range of participants, and attracts a large number of French speakers. Sessions take place 10 months a year (September through June) and may be on hiatus during WICE vacation periods. Memberships to WICE are 250F, 350F or 500F.
These conversation groups in Paris are thriving on the thirst for language learning, cultural understanding and making new friends... particularly getting to know the French, which is a never-ending challenge for most anglophones! Conversation "groupies" say it's easy to become addicted, especially since this is one time when everyone is glad that talk is cheap.
For more information:
American Dream Center, 163, rue de Charenton, 12e, Metro Reuilly-Diderot, tel: 01.43.42.26.00.
Konversando, 8 bis, Cité de Trévise, 9e, Metro Rue Montmartre/Cadet, tel: 01.47.70.21.64
Parler Parlor, Berlitz France Champs-Elysées, 35, av Franklin D. Roosevelt, 8e, Metro Franklin D. Roosevelt, tel: 01.40.74.00.17; Berlitz France La Défense, CNIT Building, Metro Grande Arche de La Défense, tel: 01. 126.96.36.199, Web site: http://www.parlerparlor.com; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Speak Easy, Rose Thé, 91, rue St-Honoré, 1er, Metro Louvre-Rivoli, 01.42.36.97.18.
Teatime=Talktime, call for exact address, Metro St- Michel, tel: 01.43.25.86.55.
WICE, 20, bd du Montparnasse, 15e, Metro Duroc, tel: 01.45.66.75.50.