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Neighbors learn language together

Retired nurse starts Spanish study club at Fox Run

Created date

March 21st, 2018
(From left) Ana May Salgado, Elizabeth Robinson, Georgette Haiman-Baert, Lorraine Cunningham (study club founder), Mary Bragg, Margo Gerber, and Nancy Snyder.

(From left) Ana May Salgado, Elizabeth Robinson, Georgette Haiman-Baert, Lorraine Cunningham (study club founder), Mary Bragg, Margo Gerber, and Nancy Snyder.


Lorraine Cunningham and her husband Reginald lived in Detroit, Mich., for many years. When Lorraine retired from her nursing career in 2015, she wanted to spend more of her time on hobbies she enjoys, such as studying Spanish. But she found that taking care of the house was still eating up a lot of her time.

“I was tending to the garden and doing so many other things at my house in Detroit,” she says. “How can you do things like study Spanish when you have to constantly deadhead roses?”

So Lorraine decided to move to Fox Run in Novi, where people who live at the Erickson Living community enjoy maintenance-free living. The Fox Run staff takes care of everything from fixing leaky faucets and repairing appliances to shoveling snow and mowing grass to, yes, even deadheading the roses (unless, of course, residents decide to maintain their own gardens in one of the communal spaces).

“It was an excellent decision to come to Fox Run because you do have more time to do what you want to do or what you have to do—without being distracted by other things like taking care of a house,” Lorraine says.

Spanish club

With more than 100 resident-run clubs and activities, there’s always something exciting to do on any given day.

Lorraine works out every day at the on-site fitness center. She also takes yoga, tai chi, and meditation classes. She recently joined a women’s billiards club, which meets every week in the community’s game room.

“When I moved to Fox Run a little over a year ago, the only thing I thought was missing was a club to study Spanish, which I had been doing for a while,” Lorraine says. “I thought I’d have to go out to a class, but thenI thought it would be so convenient if we had one here.”

At Fox Run, community members are always welcome and encouraged to start new clubs if they’re interested in something that doesn’t have an existing group. And that is just what Lorraine decided to do.

She learned there were other residents interested in getting together to speak and study Spanish. With the assistance of the resident life staff, Lorraine started Fox Run’s Spanish club last May. A core group of about ten people meets once a week.

The first hour of the Spanish Club’s meetings focuses on conversation. Members often talk about current events in Spanish or discuss articles from the Spanish-language version of The New York Times.

“One lady who was a Spanish teacher or another person who is fluent will read the article in Spanish so we can hear it, and then we read it in English,” Lorraine says. “It helps to hear the language.”

Study buddies

Each week, the members of the club write a short story in Spanish about what happened in their lives during the past week. Lorraine then takes the stories and makes corrections, and everyone reads their stories aloud at the next week’s meeting.

“Then we have a session of questions in a roundtable. I will ask questions in Spanish, and they have to respond in Spanish,” Lorraine says. “The second hour is more grammatical, where we take the language apart, discuss conjugations, and make substitutions for the nouns so they can say sentences.”

Lorraine says beginners are definitely welcome to join the club, and current members represent a range of skill levels. Some people come just to have fun, others want to become fluent in Spanish, while others are studying language to help keep their minds sharp.

Fast track to fluent

For Lorraine, it was a love of words and language that drew her to study Spanish. She had taken a Spanish course in college and did well in it, but she didn’t continue studying the language at that time. Now that she has more free time, she’s focused on it once again.

“I love words, and I’ve already learned as much English as I need,” she says. “[Learning a new language] is a challenge. It’s almost like playing chess because you have to put things together.

I also like that you don’t have to sit still or sit down at a table to study a language—you can do it anytime you want to.”

Now that she’s been studying Spanish every week with her Fox Run neighbors, Lorraine’s becoming more fluent. She says that’s inspiring her to take a trip to a Spanish-speaking country.

“I’m thinking about going somewhere, but I don’t know where yet,” she says. “As you have more success, your horizons open—whereas, a year ago, I wasn’t even thinking about that.”