Carolina Public Humanities hosts Foreign Language Lunches, where attendees aim to speak only in that language for an hour and a half. The groups include graduate students, retirees and native speakers — among other participants.
The lunches are held at Southern Season’s Weathervane restaurant in Chapel Hill and are open to all people and all levels of language proficiency. The cost is $25 per person and includes lunch.
The group meets in an upstairs room around a 13-seat round table at the Weathervane restaurant.
Rachel Schaevitz, associate director for State Outreach and Strategic Partnerships at Carolina Public Humanities, had the idea for the program several years ago. When she began working at the University, she said one of the jobs she was tasked with was trying to find ways to bring the scholarship of UNC off campus and into the community.
“I invented this ‘language lunch,’” Shaevitz said. “We started with French because there was a need and a very visible French-speaking community in town, and it expanded from there.”
Schaevitz said the idea is to bring language learners of every level together to have a conversation.
“So even if you’re really rusty or are just starting to learn, you can still come," Schaevitz said. "Even if you don’t chime in that much, you are still hearing it and participating in a conversation in that language.”
Community member Lauren Weinberger has been attending the Italian lunches since the program began. She described the lunches as a supportive, non-judgemental environment.
“I really look forward to them, to seeing the people, to getting to speak,” Weinberger said. “From an educational and a social activity, it’s a very special event.”
Prior to the meeting, the participants are given an article or excerpt in the language which will serve as a basis for conversation. This gives the participants something specific to talk about and allows beginners to use their dictionaries and plan out what they may want to say, Schaevitz said.
Amy Chambless, director of undergraduate studies in the romance studies department and director of Italian language instruction, leads the Italian lunches. Chambless said the lunches begin with small talk about what the group has been up to, films they have seen and then transitions into topics relating to Italian culture.
Chambless found that her regular participants were interested in listening to the news in Italian, so the group uses the language podcast "News in Slow" as a basis for part of their conversation.
The community that the program creates goes beyond the Weathervane. Schaevitz said that people in the French lunch meet outside of the language lunch to do things together like seeing films.
“We really love that we’ve sort of facilitated a way for people in the community to come together around something that they share,” Schaevitz said.
On a bigger scale, Carolina Public Humanities pairs up with the UNC Center for European Studies.
“They do a thing every year called Europe Week where they do a mega language lunch with us,” Schaevitz said. “That’s where we have five or six different tables in a huge ballroom, and each table is a different language. There’s a German lunch next to a French lunch next to a Spanish lunch next to Italian lunch.”
By bringing scholars out and into the community and seating them around a table, it’s a way that UNC is serving the broader community. It’s also about improving your mind and learning something about another culture and how other people live and speak, Schaevitz said.
“That’s the role of the University is to educate,” Schaevitz said. “I love that we are doing it in a billion different ways, including sitting around a table in speaking in a foreign language on a random Tuesday in Chapel Hill.”
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