When learning a new language, everyone starts at base routes. Some may not know the difference between a ceveza and a mediana or chorizo to a salchichon? Indeed you might know a bit but want to unlearn speaking Spanish from the Michael Caine School of pronunciation? This time I look at language exchanges and getting the best from the gift of tongues.
First off, what are you looking for? Spanish word for language exchange is ‘intercambio’. An intercambio is the perfect compliment to any previous experience of speaking Spanish. It is recommended that an intercambio is not substitute any formal lingual training.
Ask yourself how you prefer to learn in a group or one-to-one? Fancy improving your accent and pronunciation or your writing and writing? Where would you prefer to learn? How long do I have per evening, per week? Would you prefer to pay or not? Do you prefer something harder in the short-term or you just looking to pick up a few extra words?
Languages exchanges come in many shapes and forms. There are quite a few local groups that can be found in a city in sites such as www.meetup.com and www.meetin.org. For one to one meetings check personal language exchange sections of loquo.com, craigslist.com and barcelonaconnect.com.
Usually with organised groups there is a small charge. Prices are around 2-3€ per evening. It is not much to pick up a language and make new English and Spanish speaking friends. Many host activities and events like eating tapas and day trips outside the city. From experience there has a noticeable imbalance between English to native Spanish speakers. With the aforementioned groups they normally state who is attending so you can get an idea if a meeting will actually have an even balance of people. One-to-one meetings are free.
If you decide to contact someone from a website, think somewhere both safe and comfortable. Unless you want to spend the evening saying, “que?” every sentence find a place that is audibly quieter than a popular and rowdy bar.
To get the most from a meeting, give some forethought to what you would like to achieve. If you really need some cultural advice, then helping an advanced speaker with English is a great way of having many cultural and social situations explained to you and have to grammar explained to you. Many advanced intercambios have philology degrees or are English teachers.
Setting some basic rules about length of the meeting and splitting up time gives both parties an equal crack speaking in English/Spanish. To get a 50/50 language deal, find someone at more or less the same comprehension level as you. Once you come across a stumbling point with a word, both must find a simple way to describe something clearly. This is great training to think and communicate succinctly.
When meeting up your intercambio having a small dictionary and verb book, pen and notepad is imperative. If you prefer out-of-house meetings surface space to write notes is small. So think small. From experience a majority of Spanish can write and communicate in English. Their main problem is pronunciation. Unless you have scored 180 with Mensa, you will have to write down notes and demonstrate/illustrate on paper. It is very handy to have a hard backed A5 pocket notebook to survive recently cleaned bars, coffee tables and a drink spill.
Giving some thought to a theme for the meeting is good. “You do not appreciate how complex something simple can be. If you go to the doctor you might want to explain, it is like this or that. Having some simple words explained helps”, said Mark from London.
Something to be expected from these meetings is intercambio homework. You will find yourself writing a letter/CV etc in Engish for the other. This favour goes both ways, so do not be afraid to ask. It is advisable to leave in errors and work together to work out a few errors together. This improves the quality of the language exchange and finds small and specialised areas for improvement.
Over time, intercambios grow in to more advanced friendships, relationships or even something more intimate. Its progression is natural and is on the most part, welcomed by the other person. Feeling when the time is right to pop a question, “Fancy going to a movie? Fancy a meal at mine?”, is a way to break the ice. Once you start to lend items like books, DVDs, music or share time together with cultural activities starts a beginning to a richer intercambio.
In some cases both Spaniards and English speakers have started an intercambio for one thing in mind. Like any personal add or social group, this behaviour is not uncommon. If in doubt write an advertisement without stating gender. Other great one-liners are people asking for intercambios in bars. Sometimes you do not know where they will lead.
Many intimate relationships are found through intercambio or through a friend of theirs. Still, a natural progression is better than a desperate one.
A language exchange is a great way to assimilate a culture and have many direct questions answered which elsewhere might cause offence. So go ahead… get involved!