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A ‘desire to communicate’: Halifax language enthusiasts move online

Language learners have been practicing their skills and networking in cafés over zoom

4 min read
caption A beginner German student flips through grammar exercises.
Antonia Whelan

In a Zoom meeting on Wednesday hosted by The Halifax Languages Consortium, members began by greeting one another in their language of choice. “Bonsoirs” and “buenas noches” were exchanged before the meeting officially began.

The Consortium has been in place since March 2015. It is run by Barbara Schneider, language educator and president of the group. Their goal is to welcome everyone and anyone who is interested in learning or appreciating languages, doing business in other languages, and networking with others who are doing the same.

Schneider runs the Consortium and also hosts the Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. She hopes that the Consortium will continue to attract those who are interested in languages, and particularly those who speak more obscure languages. 

“Linguistically, Halifax is very multilingual,” she said.

Open for anyone interested in languages

Schneider also noted that you do not have to speak a second language in order to attend their events or listen to the readings in foreign languages. 

“Even people who don’t speak the language at all, you can still appreciate the words,” she said.   

John Plews, professor of German at Saint Mary’s University and past-president of the Languages Consortium, is a dedicated member and a lover of languages.

In a Zoom interview, he noted the importance of the social aspect of language learning, and the need to share and connect.   

“We just naturally have a desire to communicate and connect,” said Plews. 

“We want to ensure that our skills and our interests are maintained.”

Plews said that there is also a common connection among those who are passionate about language learning, and how it is important to keep that up during the current global pandemic. 

“Covid has taken a lot of our cultural and social celebration away from us,” he said.

“I don’t speak Polish, I don’t speak Japanese…but I find a common cause with people who do.”

An array of languages shared through Zoom

The theme for this week’s Zoom meeting was poetry night. The event, entitled “Speak As You Are,” consisted of readings of poems in varying languages by native or non-native speakers of language, followed by an explanation of the poem and answering any questions other members may have.

The first poem read by a Consortium member was one in French, about COVID-19 entitled “Covid est là” by author Ghada El-Samrout.

This followed by a reading of two poems in Polish, a poem in Portuguese, and finally a reading of a poem in English by Nova Scotian poet Maxine Tynes

Members see benefits from second-language learning

Peter Armstrong, member of the Consortium and speaker of English and French, answered some questions about why he is a part of the group via e-mail. 

He said that language learning “helps keep the brain active and sharp” and that “it breaks down cultural barriers and promotes understanding and respect.”

Armstrong said that he speaks some Russian, is learning Scottish Gaelic with an instructor, and that he is also starting to learn some Norwegian and Spanish.

caption Armstrong is a member of the Consortium who is learning to speak a number of languages.
Peter Armstrong


Another member, Danielle Fleury, also talked via email about why language learning and being a member of the Consortium is important to her.

“Learning a language exposes you to much more than just words. Language and culture are closely connected, so while learning languages you can begin to understand other cultures and ways of thinking,” she said.

New members “always welcome”

The Halifax Languages Consortium has a Facebook page where they share their own events, updates, and events of similar organizations.

Once in-person gatherings are safer, the Consortium hopes to hold more events around the city at different locations. The Consortium is open for anyone who is interested in learning other languages and cultures.  

Wednesday night’s meeting ended off with the members saying their farewells in their chosen language, and speaking of plans for the next gathering.

The next meeting takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 16 over Zoom.

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About the author

Antonia Whelan

Antonia (she/her) is a journalism student and classical pianist based in St. John's, NL.

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