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Oct. 31, 2020 | Saturday
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Conversation group helps keep German alive in NOTL
Yvonne McMorrough, founder of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s German Conversation Group. (Brittany Carter/ Niagara Now)

Use it or lose it: these are words to live by for Yvonne McMorrough, founder of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s German Conversation Group.

Since 2016, a small group of language enthusiasts have been meeting each week at the NOTL Community Centre to keep their conversational knowledge of German alive. And though the COVID-19 pandemic put a short stop to the weekly meetings, McMorrough said the group quickly adapted to online video conferencing technology to continue their regular meetings.

The group began as a way for advanced German speakers to maintain the language while keeping their minds sharp. McMorrough, who said just that she is in her 80s, said it’s important to keep stimulating the mind as you age.

“What we're hoping to achieve with this is to continue our brain functions and not to forget (the language). The more languages you have, the more parts of the brain that you use,” she said.

Currently, she said she has a conversational knowledge of five languages. Native to Ireland, she said she believes she is the oldest NOTL resident from her homeland.

"I would say I have a reasonable knowledge of five but my own Gaelic language is the weakest these days. My strongest are German and English, and I am functional in French and Spanish," she said.

The "amazing group" consists of five German native speakers, a Peruvian, two Brazilians and "our star Englishman, who lived in Germany for about 20 years and speaks better than any native."

Anyone is welcome to join the group, but they should have an advanced knowledge of the language. The group is not for learning German, but to maintain it.

“This is not for beginners,” McMorrough warns.

She said she leaves it up to the participants to decide whether or not they have a strong enough understanding of the language to continue with the group. Beginners have joined, but they often do not last, she said.

“They usually drop out after a while. We try to make everybody welcome. We give them time to observe, just to see how proficient they are. And if they can’t join in, and we leave it up to them to decide if they want to drop out.”

While the group will discuss some terms related to travel, she said it's not so much a group for tourists.

"We discuss a couple of fair tourist things like traveling by train or going to the seaside or going to the post office. We also cover some of the famous poets. We bring a bit of literature in there and music as well," she said.

Each week, one member leads the conversation topic. She said the group frequents world news sites to discuss politics, global events and international news. Meetings are conducted solely in German, and members are encouraged to research and basic terms and words that may stump them during the conversation.

She said they build their vocabulary for certain subjects, so they can be discussed in depth.

“We will build vocabulary for specific subjects. For example, here (in NOTL) there's a lot of gardeners. So, I have this vocabulary for different subjects. I could have herbs and spices, religions, different animals, political parties, etc.”

“So, you have to have the in-depth vocabulary to discuss that subject,” she said.

She said she’s thankful to technology for allowing the group to continue meeting after the closures hit this spring. Now, after being introduced to video conferencing, she said she thinks the group will continue meeting this way for a while.

And, after in-person meetings pick back up, she said they will still be able to make meetings virtually for anyone who may be out of town.

The group is always welcoming new members, she said.

If anyone would like to join or sit in on a meeting to se if the group is right for them, contact McMurrough at avocanotl@aol.com.

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