Since coming back from my year abroad in Panama, I’ve felt more inspired to keep practicing my Spanish to keep it at a good level, and one of the ways I’ve discovered to do this is going to languages exchanges.
You can find loads of language exchanges on Meetup.com, this really cool website where you can join groups of people for various activities – very useful if you don’t have any friends who want to do the same things as you. The exchanges can just be for one language, for example everyone meets there to speak French, or some are for two or more languages.
The first one I went to was called Club Espeng (literally just search for that on Facebook and the event will come up), which happens every Thursday evening in a bar by Trafalgar Square with free entry (although the venue can change which is why you have to check the Facebook events).
This one is to practice Spanish and English, so you have to already know how to speak one and be learning/improving the other one. When it’s about to start, they hold up a sign which either says English or Spanish, and that’s the language you have to speak for the next 45 minutes, then they hold up the other sign and you do that one for 45 minutes.
I’ve been here about 5 times now, and the level is quite high in both languages, and it’s mainly professionals not students. About 25 people come, and they all mix for the whole hour and a half. If you see a circle of people talking you can just wriggle your way in and everyone will talk to you, but to be honest I normally find this one quite boring, and its purpose is ONLY to practice Spanish, not to have a fun, sociable evening.
Last Wednesday I decided to try a new exchange called Mammoth London Language Exchange (search for that on Facebook or Meetup.com and you’ll see the details) which happens every Wednesday and Sunday from 6.30pm – 11pm in Zoo Bar by Leicester Square.
It was clear from the flyer on Facebook that this would be more for students with kind of a party atmosphere, so I wasn’t sure if you were “supposed” to go by yourself, but I did anyway. Entry is free (but bring ID) and this exchange is for absolutely any language.
When you go in, they give you a sticker where you write your name in the middle and then on the left, the language you already speak perfectly, then on the right you put the languages you’re learning or want to improve at.
It really didn’t matter that I was by myself because within about 5 minutes I’d already spoken to 10 people. As you pass someone you look at their sticker and if there’s a match you shake hands and start speaking basically. The organiser went round taking pictures which were later uploaded to the Facebook group:
These were some of the “friends” I made. As you can see, one of them was very interested in my hair. The one in the middle is a magician for children’s parties and he showed us a crazy trick that made money disappear. Thankfully it wasn’t my money he was using. To be honest I spent more than half my time there helping other people learn English, but it was quite fun.
The next week I brought my latino friends (long story but there’s a Ecuadorian bar/restaurant by my flat and I’ve made friends with people in there and help out at the English lessons they do for latino immigrants). Some of the guys I brought hardly speak a word of English so they were a bit nervous but they all said they found it helpful and they took advantage of the fact that beer is £2.50 before 9pm. This is our group:
The guy with his thumb up is Hugo who also teaches them English, and the other woman is Rina who already speaks quite good English and helps out with admin and stuff in the bar/restaurant. Don’t tell anyone but the one next to me in the coloured tshirt and the one behind him are my favourite students. We’re always laughing together and they’re very interested in trying to learn English chat-up lines.
So yeah… If you’re in London and want to improve at any language then definitely come to Mammoth London Language Exchange and you’ll meet all sorts of people… French, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Polish, Australian, Spanish etc. It’s a great example of a positive outcome of the multiculturalism and diversity of London.