NEW PORT RICHEY — The members of the French-language group Bonjour Mes Amis settle in to the library downtown on Thursday afternoons to talk about all things French — the landscape, the Tour de France, their relatives and invariably, food.
At a recent meeting, a pair of chocolate bars sat in the center of the table alongside a box of Raffaello candy, which, they discovered with laughter, is actually a product of Poland.
Angele Graser smiled proudly as she showed off a photograph featuring four generations of her family. The group talked about how nice it is to be able to see relatives' faces in France during video chats.
But the group congregates for more than just fellowship and food.
For the French-born members, Bonjour Mes Amis — which means "Hello, my friends" — is a place to celebrate their heritage.
"It's nice once a week to talk in our own language," Marguerite Pautard said.
The group recently celebrated Bastille Day with cake and champagne and a chorus of the national anthem, La Marseillaise.
Nonnatives have been drawn to the group to brush up on their French skills in an immersive environment.
Terri Fricke learned French while attending Catholic school in her native Vietnam.
"I didn't practice since 1968," Fricke said. "Since I joined the group two years ago, it's come back to me."
American-born Elaine Dunning comes to brush up on the language to prepare for regular trips to France, where she bicycles with her husband.
Bonjour Mes Amis is just one of many opportunities to learn languages at Pasco County libraries.
USF student Brittany Christensen is wrapping up teaching the first run of a seven-week basic Japanese class at South Holiday Library.
Christensen got interested in the language the same way many young Americans do — by watching anime. The Japanese animated movies and television shows, as well as their printed comic book counterparts (manga), were the impetus for most of Christensen's students to sign up.
"The majority of them come in and they know words because they've been watching anime," Christensen said. "They pick up a couple words, and some of them know a little bit of kanji," the Japanese writing system.
Christensen is considering offering another session of basic Japanese next summer or possibly a continuation of the first class.
Paul Stonebridge, teen services manager for the Pasco County Library Cooperative, has been conducting a Japanese language class at Land O' Lakes Library since 2009. Participants can join at any time and if they attend regularly for a full year, they will have experienced all of Stonebridge's 22 lessons.
For those interested in a more hands-on language, Aynne Rosenberg, the Signing for Everyday Living program coordinator at Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, offers sign language classes at several locations, including New Port Richey Library. Signing for Everyday Living is designed to teach participants useful signs without teaching the entire language. The class is appropriate for all ages; Rosenberg has taught children as young as 8 months old and adults as old as 101.
Would-be foreign language learners looking for a more cinematic approach to their studies will enjoy New Port Richey Library's August and September Friday Flix themes. Visit the library on Fridays in August for foreign art house films and swing by in September for Argentinian and Brazilian films.
The libraries also offer a chance to learn languages through several computer-based programs. The language learning system called Mango is offered by both Pasco County Libraries and New Port Richey Library.
"Language learners who are familiar with Rosetta Stone will feel very comfortable using Mango," said Angelo Liranzo, branch manager of Dade City's Hugh Embry Library, who has used the program to practice French and German.
The online service uses visuals, sound and text to teach learners to speak, listen and read a foreign language. The program provides feedback on users' pronunciation, provides grammar and culture notes, and covers topics like greetings, clothes shopping, eating out, using the train station and expressing courtesy and gratitude.
Library members can use the software in the library or can gain access to the program with a library card number on personal computers at home or through an Android or iPhone app. Pasco County Libraries offer access to 10 languages on the program, including a course in English for nonnative speakers. New Port Richey Library offers access to 62 languages through Mango and offers Rosetta Stone for use in the library.
New Port Richey Library members have access to Hillsborough Community College's language learning resources through the library's website. New Port Richey Library also offers an option for those looking to learn English. Nonnative speakers can make one-on-one appointments with the 150 tutors who focus on English for Speakers of Other Languages and literacy.
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or [email protected]