ALWAYS LEARNING: Sheila and Roger Hatton enjoy both the languages and the people they teach.
ALWAYS LEARNING: Sheila and Roger Hatton enjoy both the languages and the people they teach. Nadine Fisher

Couple share their love of language and life

THEY speak and teach the language of love, French.

But it's the people they meet doing so that they really love.

Sheila and Roger Hatton run the Robina-based Gold Coast Languages.

Starting out in 2011 teaching only French, their service has blossomed to include Italian, Spanish, German, Mandarin and most recently Japanese, as well as English as a second language (ESL) and advanced English (IELTS).

Their growth forced them to move from teaching at home to rooms at the Anglican Church Robina, where they have now been for five years, and have also embraced European, Japanese and Chinese native speakers as tutors.

Both British originally and now 82, the couple met in Australia back in the 1960s, loved and were fluent in French, having both enjoyed exchanges there.

But for Roger, a former accountant, two languages just weren't enough and, wanting to do something different in retirement, he enrolled as an external student at the University of New England for a Bachelor in five languages - French, Spanish, Italian, German and English.

Sheila too said she found teaching and learning a language "extremely good for the brain" as well as for her morale when she recently faced and overcame breast cancer.

"I don't feel 80-odd when I'm teaching French ... maybe 50 or 60," Sheila laughed.

A former primary school teacher and ESL trained, Sheila said teaching had been Roger's idea, and she began primarily as the social co-ordinator - organising French delicacies and plunger coffee for the classes.

But it wasn't long before she was hooked herself.

"I've always loved languages and engaged easily with people and find them fascinating, and for me it's the people you meet through the group that makes it all worthwhile," she said.

"It's like a club really; there's a real buzz when everyone comes out of classes and we stop for a coffee.

"It's hard work learning to speak French - there's an awful lot of grammar to learn - but I think the most important thing is that, even after the first lesson, people are able to leave saying, 'I can speak French', even if it's just one sentence."

And laughter, she finds, is a great learning tool.

"Learning has to be fun - it can't be like it used to be at school, all dead serious," Sheila said.

"I prepare my lessons, we do work hard and there are exercises to do, but there's always laughter coming from our room and that keeps everyone's enthusiasm going."

She said the only thing they were seeking was one or two native French speakers to join them as volunteers to encourage French conversation.

Roger and Sheila have had about 500 people through their books, learning languages and conversation for travel, business, family from another country, or just interest.

"People often think French is glamorous and elegant, and sounds romantic; they don't realise the complexity of learning a language," Roger said.

"I'm still learning new things 60 years later!

"Everyone hits a wall at some stage and thinks 'I'm never going to get it', and it's our role to help them get through that - often they just haven't realised how much they've learned."

To find out more, phone 0452 469 419.

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