Learn a New Language for Free

Duke’s International House organizes programming for the Duke community

Duke community members gather weekly for language-learning programs, including the English Conversation Club. All meetings are open to students, faculty and staff.
Duke community members gather weekly for language-learning programs, including the English Conversation Club. All meetings are open to students, faculty and staff.

Late last year, about 30 people gathered in a meeting room at the International House, a chorus of voices and different languages filling the room.

Students, faculty and staff spoke in native and foreign tongues, representing countries such as South Korea, Ecuador, Italy, China, Ukraine, Japan and the United States. The group talked about plans for the end of the fall semester, traveling to nearby states and NBA basketball.

It was a typical start to the English Conversation Club, one of the most popular programs hosted by the International House. Held each Monday during the academic year, the event provides a space where non-native speakers and practice their English skills with others.

“Every week, I feel my English sees a tremendous improvement as I get insights and become more confident,” said Gray Lee, a graduate student at the Fuqua School of Business.

All Duke community members are welcome, whether they’re looking to perfect their English or want to help others learn it. The club runs from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. Mondays at the International House at 300 Alexander Ave. Participants can come to as many weekly meetings as they’d like.

“The idea that I could get little snapshots from other countries on any Monday evening is fantastic,” said Andrea Novicki, a senior IT analyst with the Center for Instructional Technology. “It’s like taking a little trip and I get to help others.”

Whether you’re looking to learn a new language or help teach one, here are other ways to get involved at Duke.

Spanish Conversation Club

One of three total conversation clubs held at the International House, this version focuses on the second-most spoken language in the world and is open to anyone learning or looking to practice Spanish. Luis Vergara, a research technician in Pharmacology & Cancer Biology and native speaker, leads the group through informal conversations that include topical prompts. The club meets from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays at the International House.

Find more information on the club webpage or Facebook group.

Chinese Conversation Club

Participants are asked to have a basic understanding of the Chinese language in order to better contribute to conversations. SangHee Jeong, program coordinator at the International House, said an equivalent to a Chinese 101 language course is a minimum to join. Native Chinese speakers are welcome to participate and help learners from other cultures improve their Chinese.

Find more information on the club webpage or Facebook group.

La Table Francaise!

Join the French Table, a weekly conversation group, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday in the Great Hall in West Union. Look for the table with a French flag. All levels welcome. Contact Germain Choffart with questions.

Caffe Italiano

The Italian Language Program at Duke organizes weekly cultural events to help community members explore and expand their understanding of Italian culture and allow them to practice their language abilities. These are fun, non-threatening activities that consist of film screenings, conversation hours (Caffè Italiano), food tastings, guest lectures and the world famous Italian 203 Oscar Night. The next gathering is April 5.

Duke Language Partners

In fall 2015, Kati Henderson was looking to meet new people and learn new cross-cultural communications. She turned to Duke Language Partners, a program that connects students, faculty and staff for one-on-one casual interactions to learn other languages. Henderson, open to any foreign option, started learning Korean with Bo You, the wife of a graduate student.

She’s since worked with two other native South Korean Duke community members, meeting for about two hours once a week to practice pronunciation and vocabulary. Henderson has become confident in her ability to the point where she’ll text her sister in Korean and can easily translate English words for foods into Korean.


Kati Henderson, left, snapped this photo with her Language Partners Mijung Kim, middle, and Bo You, right.

“I’m learning the language, but also connecting with new people and expanding my understanding of the culture,” said Henderson, a staff assistant at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

The Language Partners program pairs Duke community members who want to share or learn specific languages. For example, someone who speaks English and wants to learn French would be put on a waiting list until a fluent French speaker who wants to work on English is available. Information on the program can be found on the International House website.

Online Learning

In addition to programs hosted by the International House, Duke community members have available to them online resources supported through Duke Libraries’ Foreign Language Learning Guide. The guide’s webpage includes access to dictionaries, language learning communities, software and more.