Moving to a foreign country, even for a short period of time, can be overwhelming. Barriers, ranging from linguistic through social to cultural, could faze even the brave and thus miss out on a lot of fun. Fortunately in this technological age, there are many website platforms to assist those looking to improve their language skills as well as break down the barriers that keep them from bonding with the country and its people.
One particular website that I have found very useful is http://www.tusclasesparticulares.com/intercambio-idiomas/ where you can create an account with a short description of your objective, for a trade-off. It is completely free. You offer some skill (say, language, dancing or cooking) and exchange it for something. Here’s a popular one: Mi español por tu inglés (My English for your Spanish). Native Spanish speakers who want to learn or improve their English seek someone for the purpose, in a non-classroom environment. Once the deal is agreed to, users of tusclases set a time and place to learn the language, typically a bar. The style of the meeting varies from person to person.
I talked to two frequent users of tusclases, Sharon from Hong Kong who was then interning in Madrid, and a local Spaniard, Marcos, who recently returned from studying in the UK. They had been meeting up almost twice a week for three months since their initial encounter in the university district of Moncloa, made possible by their accounts on tusclases.
Sharon says she has signed up as a way to practice both English and Spanish, offering to teach Cantonese in return: “I really wanted to meet some locals and get some help with my Spanish away from the normal setting of classroom language-learning.”
“Using tusclases has made me feel much more comfortable, “ Sharon adds, “knowing the other person is after the same thing as me”.
Learning a language in the conventional academic environment can be quite intimidating to many people, and the formality of a classroom can be restrictive on one’s learning capabilities. In tusclases you can receive the warmth of true human contact, and practice speaking in a more relaxed and authentic manner.
I’ve joined Sharon and Marcos in one of their meetings and it was clear that they’ve developed a comfortable friendship.
The refreshing part of tusclases is that no one is judgmental. You’re there to converse and improve your foreign language skills and learn more about another culture in a relaxed and friendly setting.
Another interesting platform is meetup.com of which, from halfway around the world, I am a regular user since the end of 2014. I am a paid member of the website and I own the largest Spanish speaking meetup.com group in Malaysia: http://www.meetup.com/es/kuala-lumpur-espanol/
In Malaysia, the Spanish learning resources are quite limited and expensive to boot. I attended Spanish classes at the Instituto Cervantes but it was not enough for me. So I created the español meetup group to encourage and facilitate meetings of more people in Kuala Lumpur who want to learn that specific language. Right now the group has more than 100 members, making meetup/español the largest of its kind in Malaysia.
My case is different from Sharon and Marcos at tusclases because getting a group of people with common linguistic interest, without a specific platform for that language, is like looking for a needle in a haystack – at least in Kuala Lumpur.
Under meetup/español I’d organize weekly meetings after office hours in an accessible location in the Malaysian capital’s Central Business District. Admission to the sessions is free. they’re held in affordable cafes, to encourage participation. The idea has paid off: no less than ten people at a time attend my Spanish meetings.
There’s no set level of Spanish proficiency for the meetings. We therefore get an interesting and dynamic mix where everyone learns something from each other and let everyone just go with the flow.
Recently, I’ve moved to Madrid and my transitioning to a totally Spanish environment has been smooth. The sessions in Kuala Lumpur have definitely something to do with this happy situation. My Spanish listening and writing skills have improved tremendously after six active months at meetup/español .
My pace in learning Spanish will definitely double now that I’m here in the very land of Cervantes. But let’s not forget the role of technology, too, which has changed the way people learn languages. You have tusclasses and meetup.com and, within the latter, meetup.com/es/kuala-lumpur-espanol/ for example. In the past it probably would take me quite a while to find partners for language exchange, having to consult tons of print media and advertisement boards. Today, with the (free) click of a button on a web browser I have what I need.
Photos: Kelsey, Douglas, tusclases, and Van Gogh Cafe
Featured image: meetup/español in Kuala Lumpur by Douglas
Skyline of Kuala Lumpur’s Central Business District by Chronus (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Chronus) , CC BY-SA3.0