U3A group leader Sylvia Herbert has helped more than 50 people improve their Spanish Conversation skills since launching the group 16 years ago, writes Phyllis Hughes
When it comes to Spanish, Sylvia Herbert is a woman who certainly knows her onions. Her degree was in Hispanic studies, she spent her working life teaching Spanish and French and for the past 16 years she has run the Dorking U3A Spanish Conversation group.
During that time not only has she been able to help more than 50 people improve their Spanish, but she has also gained some lifelong friends.
Sylvia, who celebrates her 80th birthday on 20 November, said that was one of the main advantages of the U3A.
She joined shortly after she retired from her job as head of department teaching Spanish and French at Dunnotar School in Reigate. ‘I actually joined the Portuguese group first,’ she said. ‘But very soon I was asked if I could set up a Spanish group, as quite a lot of people had expressed an interest. I’ve been doing it ever since.’
Sylvia was born in Liverpool, although her family moved to Lincolnshire soon after that. She returned to Liverpool when she went to university and, after completing her degree, she went to work as a teacher in a secondary modern school.
‘I then went to Jersey for eight years, which was a very happy time,’ she said. ‘While I was there I went to a social club and I was introduced to a veterinary surgeon, Richard.’
The couple married in 1967 and they moved back to England the following year. They moved to Surrey in 1970. She spent much of her subsequent career at Dunnotar, but when she retired she wanted to carry on with her languages.
‘It’s been great fun and I’ve met a lot of lovely people through the Spanish group,’ she said. ‘Last year we were pioneers in going to Spain for an exchange visit. The group was part of UNATE, which is the Spanish equivalent of the U3A.’
Eight members of the group went to Comillas, near Santander, and were entertained and taken to see many of the local sights by their Spanish hosts. In June this year the Spanish group visited Dorking.
Richard and Sylvia, who have one son, will enjoy a special cruise for her birthday.