How do you practise Spanish? Do you practise in a class, with a Spanish friend, when you go to Spain? Or, perhaps, you don’t actually practise at all… Getting Spanish practice (AKA talking!) is crucial – it’s the reason we learn Spanish, and it has no substitute. Yet many of us struggle to actually use the language we spend so long studying. One solution is the “intercambio”, where speakers of both languages come together to practise each other’s language.
There are different types of intercambios, from meeting one person and agreeing to practise each other’s language, to large groups who take part in organised activities. In the recording below I speak with Mykal (pictured, left), who is the organiser of the biggest intercambio group that I know of – London Spanish Language Meetup. This group contains thousands of members, meeting regularly in bars (where this was recorded, hence the background noise…), pubs, boats, and taking advantage of London’s rare Summer days in the parks. They’ve even organised holidays! Here’s what he has to say about what they do, and their “razón de ser”:
I’ve taken part in various intercambios with varying degrees of success. One of my first intercambios was when I was living in Valencia, and arranged to meet a guy to practise Spanish. We went to his flat, and alarm-bells started ringing pretty quickly! I won’t go into more details, but I decided not to meet again! From this point, I decided to take part only in group intercambios. It seems that a lot of people use intercambios as a type of online dating, so be aware of that if you decide to do “solo” intercambios.
Many people are after more than a language exchange in an intercambio, and if you are looking to just practise your Spanish I highly recommend you join a group rather than meet with individuals in person. You’ll get more chances to meet a variety of people, and if you are at a more humble level, you will be able to find people of a similar ability. You’ll also be able to repeat your conversation topics with different people if your vocabulary is limited or you just need further practice. Of course, the idea is to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and a good intercambio offers a supportive environment in which you are encouraged to do so.
Aside from great practice, intercambios offer a remarkably cheap way to interact with Spanish speakers. You may have to pay for a drink or two, but you won’t need to fly over to Spain, or pay expensive entry fees. They are also very effective for practising certain types of conversation – you’ll introduce yourself a lot of times, and make small talk with people you don’t know. All useful skills for when you need to do it “for real” when abroad!
Language exchanges give you an opportunity to practise your Spanish; however, they do not offer “lessons” as such. If you’re not comfortable feeling like you’re getting left behind in conversations, or that you need a more academically supportive atmosphere, you may struggle. In the audio, Mykal makes the point that “we can’t teach people Spanish, we can only provide them with the environment where they can practise what they’ve already learned”. However, the very best intercambios are more than just a language exchange. Intercambios such as the London Spanish Language Meetup offer a way in to the culture, and help you to feed your passion for the language and country with like-minded people.