Sydneysiders, if you’ve resolved to learn Spanish this new year, let me make one recommendation: the Blue Studies Spanish-English language exchange. Take it from someone who learned Spanish por mi cuenta without leaving Sydney: There are many options on Meetup.com but Blue Studies is the best one. Find them on Meetup here and Facebook here.
Blue Studies International is an education agency that helps Latin Americans study abroad in English-speaking countries. Yolima and Tatiana run the language exchange to connect the Latin American students with local English-speakers. They’re really passionate about creating a friendly environment where everyone can improve in their target language.
At Blue Studies, you form groups of 4 or 5 and speak for 40 minutes (20 minutes Spanish, 20 minutes English) and you repeat this 3 times. It sounds cheesy and a little like speed dating but it works. You rarely find yourself meandering in awkward conversations or glancing across the room at the people you’d really like to meet – there’s simply no time. All you can do is try your best to make the conversation as interesting as possible (this is my approach, anyway). The format also prevents cliques from forming.
Another popular Spanish-English meetup is the Sydney Spanish Speakers (SSS) group, which meets weekly at St. James Hotel (SEEP). However, that group is more popular with longer-term Spanish-speaking expats who are there to meet up with their friends. The Blue Studies exchange attracts a greener, more open-minded crowd that is switched on, keen to improve their language skills and cultural knowledge. It’s no surprise (though no less impressive) that the exchange has grown quickly, largely through word-of-mouth. There is already a core of regular members and people talking about meeting up and practicing outside. Looking ahead, I hope it continues to facilitate more social networking.
So, Blue Studies offers meaningful language practice with interesting people… Did I mention it’s free? By comparison, the ‘Spanish Club’ Meetup group do all their events with the English Friend, Japanese Food and Drinks Party and Happy Go Luckies groups and charge cover. The time I went, the room was filled with people (a good sign), but they were mostly Japanese tourists and creepy guys – not a single native Spanish-speaker!
The Blue Studies language exchange takes place every fortnight at the Forbes Hotel (corner of York St and King St), usually on a Wednesday (join them on Facebook or Meetup and never miss an invite). That’s 13 days to get ready for game day. That’s right: Once you’re in the conversation, the aim should be simply to socialise and enjoy yourself. I take down notes as I stumble across things I don’t know how to say but they’re for worrying about later.
There are many free tools I can recommend to help you practice Spanish in your own time. If you’re just starting or need a refresher on the basic building blocks of Spanish, I rate Michel Thomas audio-courses very highly. They are more interesting and less of a commitment than Duolingo. Meanwhile, Memrise should be your go-to vocab-builder. If you’re looking for a tutor or prefer to chat online, Italki and Sharedtalk/HelloLingo are fantastic options. Finally, being a good listener goes a really long way. Find my review of my five favourite Spanish-language podcasts here.
Thanks for reading. You can find more tips for learning languages in the menus in the right-hand column. Get in touch with me via email@example.com or @TimSpricht and click “Follow” in the top-right corner to get me delivered to your inbox. Hope to see you at the meetup!