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“Me parece una iniciativa genial” (I think this is a brilliant initiative). Gloria, Vecindario
Londoner Theresa Coe has launched the first language exchange for Gran Canaria. Her mission: to unite the different communities that live side-by-side through a shared wish improve language skills.

As someone who speaks Spanish fluently, it´s frustrating to hear  from friends and neighbours: ‘but I don´t have anybody to practice with’ (no tengo con quien practicar). Many of us have Canarian neighbours or workmates, yet how many have true friendships with local people?
Naturally there are cultural and language barriers between us, but the very thing that separates the Spanish from the Brits could serve to bring the local and foreign communities closer together: the need to learn the language of the ‘other side’: in our case, Spanish, in theirs English, German or Norwegian.

The importance of speaking Spanish

Along with English, Spanish is the most widely-spoken language worldwide (outside China). Without a doubt ,being able to speak it reasonably well greatly improves our job prospects, not to mention making daily life an awful lot easier – and cheaper! Those who can speak Spanish are far less likely to be ripped off or overcharged for goods or services.
There is also a lot we miss out on living in Gran Canaria if we can´t mix with local people, find out about their culture, and widen our social circle beyond our own nationality. Finally, I believe that anyone living in a foreign country has a responsibility to at least try and get by in its official language. How do we feel when a foreigner emigrates to the UK but doesn´t make an effort to learn English?

Putting something back

It´s always been my dream to launch a language exchange for the island. Something that is totally free for those who can’t afford private tuition or find themselves lost in big classes, which offer little opportunity for speaking.
With these objectives in mind, I´ve created a form allowing those that sign up for the language exchange to share relevant information about themselves and outline their needs and wishes. Using this data, I try and match people from different nationalities to the most appropriate speaking partner for their area, interests and level.

Not for total beginners

To take part, you need enough Spanish to be able to ‘get by’ in a conversation one-to-one. Remember that your speaking partner is not a teacher, so a language exchange is intended to complement through practice the grammar and vocabulary you´ll still be learning at home, in a school or with a private tutor. But as an opportunity to practice what you´ve just been studying, it´s ideal – or for those who already have a decent knowledge of Spanish and just need to understand and talk to native speakers more.

Exchange etiquette and safety

Throughout meetings with a speaking partner, you should try and distribute your time equally between the two languages, correcting one another with patience. It´s a good idea to take notes of mistakes while the other person is speaking so you don´t keep interrupting them. You should support one another in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, perhaps over a coffee or beer.
It´s a good idea to have your first meeting in a public place, such as a quiet local bar or café. If possible,  take along an English/Spanish dictionary, and notepad. I also recommend making a list of topics and questions you can ask before each meeting, perhaps using some of the sample conversations I´ve outlined in previous Spanish lessons in The Canary News. If you´re missing any of these you can obtain them via www.thecanarynews.com or by emailing me at theresacoe@gmail.com . Nothing reduces nerves like showing up well-prepared!
Those who want to focus on written Spanish/English or who find it difficult to travel have the option of linking up with Spanish-speakers via the internet, e.g. Â using Messenger, chatting on Skype/gmail etc or emailing one another.
It can be daunting meeting  a total stranger and trying to communicate in a language not your own. But let´s face it – we´re all in the same boat and this is an opportunity to meet new people, learn new words and expressions, and feel good about helping someone else with their English. Who knows what interesting new friends you may make?
For more information about the language exchange (including our monthly ‘intercambio’ meetings in the capital and shortly to begin in the south), to sign up for a speaking partner or receive ideas for conversation topics, email theresacoe@gmail.com

What initial participants have to say about the language exchange:

“No tengo capacidad económica para recibir clases, entonces me gustaría participar en el intercambio gratuito”
– Estudiante, Sonnenland
“Quería darte las gracias por ponerme en contacto con S, es muy amable y me está aportando muchos conocimientos.” (“I wanted to thank you for putting me in touch with S. He´s really nice and increasing my knowledge of English”)
– Nuria, Maspalomas
“There comes a point when students don´t want any more lessons and I wonder ‘What do I tell them now?’. ‘I never get a chance to practice’ is heard quite often here, so this exchange is an excellent idea.”
– Languages teacher, Puerto Rico
“I fall into the category of 99% of Brits who tend to socialise within same nationality groups; yet I need to speak Spanish fluently as soon as possible. I´d be happy to help a Spaniard if they were able to help me”
– Steve, San Fernando.
“Las academias no me ayudan porque siempre le dan mucha importancia a la gramática cuando lo importante es hacerte entender” (Language schools don´t help me because they focus on grammar when the important thing is to make yourself understood)
– Noelia, Telde
“We have a speaking partner who is 22, (and we are 62) but it is working very well so far. So thank you – this is making all the difference.”
– Eddie and Maureen, Las Palmas

About the language exchange co-ordinator:

I’m a Londoner of 39 who´s lived in Gran Canaria for three years. My partner is from Costa Rica and my brother-in-law from Cuba – I´ve taught English as a volunteer in both countries. In London I was editor of a medical magazine for the national charity Action for M.E., which represents people living with M.E. or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I´ve had the condition myself for 20 years which is why I am delighted to now live a quieter, healthier life in the sunshine. Within my health limitations I do as much as I can – including writing the fortnightly Spanish lessons for The Canary News free English newspaper on the island (www.thecanarynews.com)

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