â€œMe parece una iniciativa genialâ€ (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, itÂ´s frustrating to hear Â from friends and neighbours: â€˜but I donÂ´t have anybody to practice withâ€™ (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 â€˜other sideâ€™: 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 â€“ 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 canÂ´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 doesnÂ´t make an effort to learn English?
Putting something back
ItÂ´s always been my dream to launch a language exchange for the island. Something that is totally free for those who canâ€™t afford private tuition or find themselves lost in big classes, which offer little opportunity for speaking.
With these objectives in mind, IÂ´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 â€˜get byâ€™ 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 youÂ´ll still be learning at home, in a school or with a private tutor. But as an opportunity to practice what youÂ´ve just been studying, itÂ´s ideal â€“ 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. ItÂ´s a good idea to take notes of mistakes while the other person is speaking so you donÂ´t keep interrupting them. You should support one another in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, perhaps over a coffee or beer.
ItÂ´s a good idea to have your first meeting in a public place, such as a quiet local bar or cafÃ©. If possible, Â 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 IÂ´ve outlined in previous Spanish lessons in The Canary News. If youÂ´re missing any of these you can obtain them via www.thecanarynews.com or by emailing me at email@example.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 Â a total stranger and trying to communicate in a language not your own. But letÂ´s face it â€“ weÂ´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 â€˜intercambioâ€™ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
What initial participants have to say about the language exchange:
â€œNo tengo capacidad econÃ³mica para recibir clases, entonces me gustarÃa participar en el intercambio gratuitoâ€– Estudiante, Sonnenland
â€œQuerÃa darte las gracias por ponerme en contacto con S, es muy amable y me estÃ¡ aportando muchos conocimientos.” (â€œI wanted to thank you for putting me in touch with S. HeÂ´s really nice and increasing my knowledge of Englishâ€)– Nuria, Maspalomas
â€œThere comes a point when students donÂ´t want any more lessons and I wonder â€˜What do I tell them now?â€™. â€˜I never get a chance to practiceâ€™ is heard quite often here, so this exchange is an excellent idea.â€– Languages teacher, Puerto Rico
â€œI 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. IÂ´d be happy to help a Spaniard if they were able to help meâ€– Steve, San Fernando.
â€œLas academias no me ayudan porque siempre le dan mucha importancia a la gramÃ¡tica cuando lo importante es hacerte entenderâ€ (Language schools donÂ´t help me because they focus on grammar when the important thing is to make yourself understood)– Noelia, Telde
â€œWe 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.â€– Eddie and Maureen, Las Palmas
About the language exchange co-ordinator:
Iâ€™m a Londoner of 39 whoÂ´s lived in Gran Canaria for three years. My partner is from Costa Rica and my brother-in-law from Cuba â€“ IÂ´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. IÂ´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 â€“ including writing the fortnightly Spanish lessons for The Canary News free English newspaper on the island (www.thecanarynews.com)