Is a bit of one-on-one conversation all you’re missing to convert long hours studying into confident spoken Spanish? Before you go scouring the web for your next digital conversation partner, consider first connecting with the Spanish speakers living just around the corner.
When I was practicing Dutch five years ago through Skype exchanges on conversationexchange.com, that seemed like just about the coolest thing modern technology and the shrinking global village could offer.
But in the last few years the internet has exploded with more apps for connecting language learners to native speakers than even the most ambitious polyglot could ever need. And yet, a lot of us are still struggling to find the chances we crave to really practice speaking the languages we’re working so hard on learning.
Sometimes, the tech upgrade just complicates things.
Language is at its heart about community–we use it to share our thoughts and feelings, work on projects together, gossip about the neighbors, and debate the day-to-day. And sometimes we forget that we can (and should) do all of that offline as well as on social media.
Instead of signing up for another online conversation partner or penpal, try stepping out from behind the computer and looking in these seven places for Spanish speakers in your community. You’ll need a brief moment of wifi to facilitate the flesh-and-blood handshake for the first three (it is 2017 after all), and the last four are so retro they predate the digital era entirely.
Couchsurfing is mostly known as a worldwide hospitality of network of travelers who will let you surf their couch for free when you’re in town. But in cities across the world, Couchsurfers are busy organizing meetups, language exchanges, and holiday parties in their local communities.
One of the great features of Couchsurfing is that you can search for members based on what languages they speak, so making a local search for Spanish-speaking Couchsurfers is an easy option even if there’s no language exchange currently being held in your town. If you come across an active member who also speaks Spanish, reach out to them–you’ll be surprised how often people are open to meeting up for a coffee and a chat!
Meetup is another social networking site that posts local groups and locally organized events in communities across the world. Just type in your town and browse through the Language and Culture category: if you don’t find any active meetups, try expanding your search radius to include the nearest bigger town.
It seems like a lot of this sort of local organizing is moving from more specialized sites like Couchsurfing and Meetup to the site where just about everybody is active: Facebook.
Just type a phrase like “language exchange” in the search bar and filter the results on the following page to your current location or a nearby one, or browse through local groups to find one related to Spanish language, Hispanic cultures, or a local hispanophone expat community.
Local libraries often double as linguistic and cultural community centers, offering language support for local immigrant and minority language communities. Your local library likely organizes regular conversation groups and book clubs in English and Spanish, as well as maintaining a bulletin board or registry of community members looking for language partners in town. Nose around the community bulletin board and ask at the service desk about Spanish groups and other linguistic initiatives in your community.
Local university, community college, or learning annex
Most educational centers today are built to serve diverse, international, and multilingual populations. Because they often host a great deal of both resources and expertise in language acquisition, they also frequently function as centers for language learning and cultural exchange.
The nearest university is almost certain to have a International Student Center or something similar where you can get in touch with different cultural and linguistic communities on campus. In smaller towns, adult education centers and learning annexes attached to libraries and high schools are often home to English classes for newcomers to the community, and thus a perfect place to look for Spanish speakers who might be interested in language exchange and making a new friend in town.
Immigration services and volunteer organizations
Whether you’re in the US or abroad, your local government and a team of NGOs are working to help recent immigrants get settled in their new communities and prepared for the local job market. Especially if you’re in a region that’s recently seen surges of refugees, these organizations are always thirsty for volunteers to serve as language partners and guides to the community and local culture. Volunteer Match is a good site to start exploring: search under the “immigrants and refugees” tab to find out what kinds of organizations are active in and nearby your community, and what kind of help they’re looking for that might lead you to your next Spanish conversation partner.
The nearest big city
The US is always changing, and with its demographic and cultural changes come linguistic ones. Today that means not only that most medium and large cities in the United States are home to Spanish-speaking communities, but that Spanish is most likely here to stay and will only grow in the years to come. And it’s not just the States: nowadays you can find clusterings of Spaniards all across Europe and the Americas, and Latin American communities spread as far and wide as Australia and the Philippines.
That means if there’s not much of a Latino community in your town, the bigger town up the road probably has a biweekly Spanish reading at the library and a killer authentic Cuban restaurant just around the corner.
About the Author:Jakob Gibbons
I write about language and travel on my blog Globalect. I often share my experiences with learning languages on the road, and teaching and learning new speech sounds is my specialty.