Saying Hola and Bonjour to memories

A pioneering language learning programme, recently launched in London, is set to open up new opportunities for residents in care and retirement homes. Developed and operated by Speak Like A Native, this innovative initiative has been on hold for three years.

CEO Stuart Rubenstein says, “We’ve been running language courses in nurseries and schools for years but Covid meant we’ve had to wait until now to start in care homes. It’s very exciting to begin rolling it out and seeing how positive the initial reception is.”

He explains that what makes this course so special is that it’s not about turning up and teaching a few words in Spanish or French.  “We create a space where residents can connect the language with memories, which might be food or culture, school experiences, family or holidays. The lessons are very fluid and follow the pace of those participating. We personalise everything and make it a very special hour for all involved.”

Among the early adopters of Speak Like A Native is Alan Morkhill House in North Kensington, part of the Gold Care Homes group, which now has Spanish for beginners as one of its regular weekly events.

Suraiya Islam, activities co-ordinator at Alan Morkhill House, explains why she’s become a fan of Speak Like A Native. “The language sessions benefit our residents in numerous ways; they help them grow, stimulate their brains, increase their desire to learn and try something new, improve their attention span, slow down cognitive issues, improve memory function, boost their self-esteem and give them a sense of pride.”

Rubenstein and his wife, Greta Grinfeld, set up Speak Like A Native to take away the fears of language learning for people of all ages and to promote the positive benefits of being multilingual. “However,” as Grinfeld points out, “this course is different to what we offer children or young adults. In care homes, it’s obviously not about passing exams or career prospects but about reminiscing and the joy that can be found today in learning and discovering something new. We all like challenges and all deserve to feel proud of what we can accomplish.”

Grinfeld adds that the most important aspect is that the residents have fun whether it’s sharing stories or having a go at Spanish or French pronunciation. Islam agrees and says that “Our residents look forward to the sessions every week.”

She puts this down to the good rapport the Speak Like A Native teacher has built up with the participants. “They’ve become friends with the residents, and the experience has had a positive effect on everyone taking part.”

Rubenstein says that it’s not easy to explain to care homes why this is so much more than a language lesson. “That’s why we don’t try to get into too much detail about our methodology or what has gone into designing the course. We prefer to offer a free taster session so care home managers and activities co-ordinators can see how it all works in their setting with their residents. Then it makes sense!”.

Care homes interested in finding out more about setting up a taster should get in touch with Speak Like A Native at help@speaklikeanative.com.