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Foreign language fans flock together to speak out

It is not unusual to hear adults chatting over coffee at Ashland's Inner Child Caf&

233;. But on certain Wednesday evenings, eavesdropping is difficult for monolingual visitors because the discussion is in French.

Those evenings, the cafe plays host to a group of people who gather to socialize and exercise their foreign language skills. They range widely in age and background but are united by a common love of French language and culture. Between sips of caf&

233; au lait their conversation sparkles as the participants laugh, make grand hand gestures, or just listen quietly while others speak.

At other times, a similar scene unfolds in Spanish at the Inner Child, and in various venues around town another group meets informally to enjoy food and beer together while speaking German.

While these regular meetings offer attendees the opportunity to practice their native language or revive a second language, it is also a chance to reconnect with a different part of their personal history. Sharon Wieczorek, a member of the French conversation group says, "there is something awakened in me when I speak French."

Get Out —

Foreign language groups around town are usually open to newcomers. — The French group meets every other Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m at the Inner Child Cafe’. — For a German conversation group contact Jens Sehm at 488-2930. — — The German group meets at Standing Stone Brewery Thursdays at 5 p.m.

Wieczorek, who lived in France for a year, says language is a vehicle for one's feelings. "There are sentiments that come through the language, which do not translate into English. Aspects of myself have been opened by living in France, speaking in French."

For many in the conversation group, speaking French is like taking a brief vacation. Christine initially joined the Inner Child group to practice French.

"If you don't use it, you lose it. I wasn't willing to risk losing it," she said. Kleiman said that groups such as these are not that unusual in Ashland. A native of Germany, she also participates in a German conversation group. "Ashland is such an international community," she said.

She said the original group of four women clicked at the first French meeting.

"It is more of a social gathering now. I just love these people," Kleiman said.

Kimberley Healey, a French teacher at Ashland High School agrees.

"I feel totally connected with these people. The first time we met, we spoke for hours," Healey said. "We connect with a way of living, which has to do with pleasure and enjoying life."

April Starlight, co-owner of the Inner Child caf&

233; started the group.

"I wanted to practice French, but was busy with my children and the business, having the group at the Inner Child works for all of us," she said.

Parents in the group say that for members with children, the Inner Child is ideal.

Speaking another language, Starlight says, is a joy and makes her feel like she's getting away with something special. "I go to that place in my brain where there are other contexts, other cultural references."

Though most of the members have a fairly high level of fluency, others come to listen and learn. Harvey Rupp has traveled extensively, and taught himself Bulgarian during a two-year residence in Bulgaria. Though he knows a little French, he wanted to speak more. "I love French, its like music to me."

The French conversation group meets on odd-numbered Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. New people are welcome.

The Spanish conversation group will resume meeting in January, on Thursdays at — p.m. Ramona Rubio, co-owner of the Inner Child and organizer of the Spanish group says it is open to anyone who is interested learning and speaking Spanish. She started the group both to practice her own Spanish and to "explore the juiciness of the culture." Ramona points out the diversity of Spanish speaking cultures in the area. "We have members from Mexico, Spain, and Argentina." All language levels are welcome.

A German conversation group meets Thursdays at 5 p.m. at the Standing Stone Brewery. For further information, contact Jens Sehm at 488-2930.

For more information about the French or Spanish conversation groups contact the Inner Child at (541) 482-WILD.