Food, wine, and the chatter of Italian is a weekly occurrence in downtown Sisters. Some might be surprised to hear the language from a country almost 6,000 miles away, but in Central Oregon there are weekly groups that meet to have fun and practice speaking a range of languages, including Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Russian.

The Sisters Italian group has been meeting for 12 years. Long-time organizer of the group, Bruce Williams, explained that initially the group had only four or five people who would meet, but now there are over 15 people who enjoy one another’s company regularly. The group can often be found dining at Open Door on Wednesday evenings where their boisterous activity often attracts other restaurant customers who are surprised to hear Italian at the table next to them.

Just this past Wednesday, on August 21, a couple that was visiting family from Tuscany stopped by the table to chat with the group.

When asked what Williams enjoyed most about the Italian group he explained, “Learning Italian in retirement has greatly enriched our travel experiences in Italy, but it has also given me a valuable combination of intellectual stimulation, a sense of accomplishment, and very enjoyable social relationships with fellow Italian-speakers here in Sisters.”

He likes how practicing another language is “an outstanding exercise for the brain” and a good experience to socialize, both with native Italian speakers while traveling abroad and among members of the Sisters community. He is happy to speak with more members of the Sisters community about joining the Italian group.

Many group members pointed out the community aspect of the language group as its greatest appeal. Kim Marsan, who lived in Italy for several years, described how the group creates a “positive community that brings people together from all over the world.”

Meanwhile Suzan Ard pointed out that “meeting with this group is a great opportunity to practice the language you have been learning in a fun environment. With a few exceptions I wouldn’t know any of these people here if not for the Italian group.”

Another group member who was raised in Italy, Christina Cappy, said that the community and fun aspect of the Italian group inspired her to start a new business called Bend Language Institute. She wants to create a central hub where different language communities can get together and practice their languages in an interactive environment. Beyond offering small eight-week classes in several languages, she organizes a number of workshops that allow people to use their languages through everyday activities.

“I call them Language in Action Workshops,” she explained. “The idea behind them is that the best way to learn a language is by doing the language and also by making language learning fun.”

Upcoming workshops include discussing the history of winemaking in Italy in Italian, cooking Chinese food while speaking Mandarin, and practicing yoga in Spanish — one that she is particularly looking forward to as she is also a Spanish-language learner.

Cappy is hosting an opening event for Bend Language Institute on September 27 at 5 p.m. at 416 NE Greenwood Ave., inside the Mactek building. For more information contact her at 541-728-3022 or bendlanguageinstitute@gmail.com. She wants to invite all members of the Central Oregon community to meet each other and connect with diverse language communities.