Eighteen-year-old Jim is in Argentina for a few weeks with his older sister Carla. Staying in Belgrano for a few weeks before he starts university in the US, the siblings really want to practise their Spanish – which they both learned in high school – but they don’t know how to go about meeting native speakers in such a short time frame.
This is where Spanglish comes in. The language exchange conversation group attracts up to 50 English and Spanish native speakers in an evening, giving those keen to practise their language skills the opportunity to meet people in a safe and organised environment.
Spanglish’s founder Maya May moved to Argentina four years ago from the US, and knows how hard it can be make new friends. She wanted to expand her own circle and began holding a weekly conversation group from her San Telmo home in January. Six months later, Spanglish now takes place four times a week and is as popular with foreigners waltzing into town for a few days as it is with those living here on a more permanent basis.
What makes Spanglish stand out from other conversation groups is that you talk for five minutes in each language and then meet a different person, which adds a speed dating angle to it.
“It can be lonely in a big city like Buenos Aires so it’s all about making friends and practising your language skills. Members will often go out for dinner once the meeting ends, which is brilliant,” says Maya. “The idea is about inclusion, so although it may seem like a way for people to hook up, that really isn’t what I’m aiming for.”
Armed with perfect English and good Spanish, I floated among the twos and threes at one of last week’s Palermo meetings. It was relaxed, everyone wanted to chat and if conversation does get a little sticky, handouts are available on each table with ideas to pick up the thread again. A beer is included in the price to help relax those mouth muscles and take an edge off any nerves, but most people seemed to do just fine without depending on alcohol.
It was a genuine mixed bag of characters: I met a German sent by his firm to work here, an Argentine studying for a degree in hospitality and an Indian in town for a few days. With the rise and rise of internet-based friends’ sites such as Facebook and MySpace, it was a welcome return to the world of meeting living, breathing people, face to face, while brushing up on your Spanglish skills.
Photo by Meredith Keffer