In this day and age language learners looking to improve their language skills have so many options at their disposal. Some enrol on advanced language courses, others book trips to a country where the language they are trying to master is widely spoken. Some people look for language buddies on Skype or sign up to language exchange sites. This post, however, is about another way of attaining fluency in a foreign tongue - language meetups. I will share with you the experience I have had so far with this fun and inexpensive way of keeping up with your foreign language skills.
Anyone who has ever visited a site like www.meetup.com knows that these days there is a meetup for just about anything. Are you a fledgling writer looking to network with your peers and meet like-minded people for advice and support? There is a meetup for that! Have you just moved to a new city and would like to meet new people? No problem, there are tons of meetup groups dedicated to social activities. Love coffee? Sure, you can sign up to a "coffee and chat" meetup and talk to other coffee enthusiasts over a skinny latte. Naturally, there are also meetup groups for speakers and learners of all the most popular languages - English, German, Italian, French, Spanish - you name it. Which is, of course, great. But how does it all work in practice? Are language meetups really useful?
I have attended quite a few meetups over the past 2 years - I have been going to two of them on and off for over a year now. It's those two I will be focusing on in this article.
French is one of the languages I speak, but one I have always struggled with a bit, due to lack of practice, despite having learnt it as a child. I do get to use it at work every now and then, but that is nowhere near enough, so I signed up for a bi-weekly French meetup, that takes place in a pub not far from my office. The best thing about it is that as soon as you walk in, you start speaking French and French only. No English or any other languages are spoken throughout the duration of each meetup. Which means that you just HAVE to speak French, which is wonderful. You get a good mix of native French speakers and foreigners keen to practice their French, some of whom have lived in France and have an excellent command of the language. Since I started going to these meetups, I have met and spoken to a ton of very interesting people from France, Belgium, the UK, the US, Japan, Spain, Italy and Cyprus, to name but a few. If your goal is to make new friends though, then this is not the right meetup for you. The atmosphere is very relaxed and cordial and the conversations flow effortlessly, but chances are, if you run into one of your interlocutors at another gathering a few weeks later, they will acknowledge you with a smile and move on to talk to people they have not met yet. Many people turn up only once or twice, never to be seen again. Overall, this meetup has done wonders for my French skills and I will certainly be going back this year.
I have also been a member of a weekly Spanish meetup for well over a year now. I do not go every week, as that is a bit too frequent in my opinion, but I do make an appearance every 2-3 weeks. I am fully fluent in Spanish, having lived, worked and studied in Spain for 4 years. However, I do not have many Spanish speaking friends at the moment and hardly ever get to use the language in a professional setting these days, so the main motivation for me is to maintain my current level of fluency. This meetup is different to the French one in that it is more of a language exchange. Both English and Spanish are spoken, and oddly enough usually there are always a few people who do not speak any Spanish at all. That makes it a bit more challenging, but I usually still manage to find native/fluent Spanish speakers to talk to every time I go there. Everyone is really friendly and many people are regulars, which means that you get to know them and a lot of the time the whole experience is akin to having a couple of drinks with friends after work. Again, a very positive experience overall and I look forward to going to my first one of the year tomorrow!
So do I think that language meetups are a good way to improve your foreign language vocabulary and practice conversation skills? Yes, absolutely. It is true, however, that each meetup group is different and you are not guaranteed a good experience. Yes, some people seem to think that language meetups are an appropriate avenue for finding a date. Some people go to language meetups even though they do not speak the language in question. Some organisers seem to think that it is a good idea to hold a language meetup in a loud nightclub, where it is impossible to have a conversation, which defeats the very purpose of such gatherings. Some organisers insist on charging you a membership fee. But all these things aside, if you do not have the opportunity to use your language skills at work or with friends who are native speakers, language meetups are a good option to hone your skills.
If you are thinking of joining a language meetup group, here are a few thoughts and suggestions:
- The size of the group is important - if it's too small and only 3 other people turn up, you will likely end up having to talk to the same person all evening. If the group is too big, it may be slightly more difficult to join in and start a conversation initially.
- You need to have a certain level of fluency before participating in a language meetup. Meetups are for improving your language skills, not for learning a language from scratch.
- If you are a bit shy, the idea of having to strike up conversations with strangers may seem a bit daunting. But meetups are a great way to overcome that and hone your networking skills. if you don't feel comfortable going on your own, invite a friend along - the more, the merrier.
- Try to pick a meetup where only one language is spoken - the one you are interested in getting better at. That will ensure that you get the most out of each session.
- Have fun! :)
Have you been to any language meetups lately? How useful are they for language learning in your opinion? I'd love to hear from you, so please do drop me a line via the Contact section or post a comment and tell me all about it!