Join a language club!

Part of OrneLink’s remit is to facilitate social and linguistic exchange between members. Many expat members of the network would like to improve their French; but lessons can be costly, inconvenient and hard to stick at. There are also many French members who would love the opportunity to practice or improve their English.

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For Love or Money... volunteering with the help of OrneLink

Janet Wyllie is a serial volunteer and now she is using her native tongue to help students in schools perfect their English as part of an OrneLink scheme. 

Volunteering, it seems, comes naturally to Janet. 'I really recommend it', she says, 'especially if you've not tried it before. For me, I was determined to integrate and understand the French way of life as part of my experience here, rather than fall upon the comforts of the familiar ex-pat community. It's been very rewarding for me, and I hope the students I work with also.'

When Janet contacted OrneLink as a potential volunteer in schools she was soon contacted by the Collège Balzac in Alençon to help with their 'English Club' - a weekly lunchtime gathering of motivated students who wished to converse in English, with a native speaker. When Janet was then asked to volunteer at St Exupéry in Courteille she came up with a novel idea on how she could combine helping students with their English along with her skills as a professional massage therapist. For an hour a week, Janet demonstrates massage and self-massage for relaxation to a group of students, with a tutor as her model, verbally describing the process and the philosophy of massage in English. The sessions are a great success, which is no surprise. 

'I like to get involved', says Janet, 'and volunteering is a way of doing that. Since I came to the Orne I have worked with the Red Cross, in Alençon Hospital as a librarian and in retirement homes offering massage for the elderly. I also took a part in a play about the lacemakers of Alençon, 'Fanfan et la dentelle des reines'.

Volunteering is not just about giving your time, energy and talents freely. It's also an opportunity for the volunteer to engage with individuals and the community and learn something about themselves. Scientific studies have demonstrated that there is a significant health benefit to volunteering and that altruism or selflessness is a fundamental aspect of good health. It's also a great way to face some of your own fears, like speaking in front of people, or just being social.

Peter Edney retired with his wife Linda to the Orne four years ago. When asked if he enjoyed volunteering one morning a week at Sevigny to run an English debating group he said, 'Of course I enjoy it, I wouldn't do it if I didn't. I think that's rather the point of being a volunteer'. Peter works with the English department and the three full time tutors who work there and appreciate that the English students, who are in their early teens, have a native speaker to work with on a regular basis. 

OrneLink has so far aided 18 volunteers to find colleges and schools in their local area that can make use of English speakers as part of the educational experience - and it is no surprise that  educational establishments are taking the learning of English more seriously than ever in 2011. 

The French Cultural Exception was a formal decree made in 1993 to prevent the French language and culture being eroded by such global staples as Hollywood films and British and American music by forcibly limiting their import, screentime and radio play. Institutions such as the unique 'Académie Française' actively sought to prevent a creeping 'Franglais' bought about by economic and cultural globalisation that was perceived, often rather snobbishly, to be nothing more than an Anglo-Saxon invasion. However, with economic survival in the so-called 'global village' being prioritised by a new pro-globalisation President, France is waking up to the fact that English is the language of trade, international business, new technologies and, perhaps reluctantly, modern culture. In fact Xavier Darcos, the minister of Education, recently stated that all pupils would leave school bilingual.

So whether you can help for a morning, or just an hour like Anne Peters, who despite having a job and running her gîte in Condé sur Sarthe, still finds time to volunteer help at a school English Club in Alençon, it's possible to make a small difference to the learning experience of others. And, if you believe in the Butterfly Effect where apparently small gestures can make a big difference, then perhaps something that transpires in that English club or debating society may somehow change someone, for the better, for a lifetime.

But as Anne Peters says, 'at the end of the day it's good fun', and that is a good enough reason for anything.

Interested in volunteering in a collège? Let us know!

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