by Justyna Basiak
I am very keen on learning foreign languages and pushing others to follow this path as I am more than sure that languages widen our horizons, broaden our mind and help us become more tolerant for the world around us. It seems that in the future my children most probably will be living in the mixed languages surrounding and I am sure that I would like them to be ready for that, that is why they will be speaking more than just one language since the very beginning of their speaking moments.
Therefore, while doing my European Voluntary Service I also helped to coordinate another immensely interesting and involving activity for all those interested in practicing and learning foreign languages (known as language freaks), which was called Language Exchange Meetings or Language Tables.
How to get started
The idea is very interesting and worth following especially if you decide to practice some foreign language actively and be good at it. You basically have to organize a group of people speaking different languages in one place and let them all speak. What do I mean? I mean arranging the tables or organizing the space that you situated in, so that people could speak different languages at different point of the room. We usually put a flag of the country that the language is originally coming from on the table, which is a sign that if you decide to sit at this particular table you will have a chance and you will be asked to speak the language that rules there. People sitting at a particular table decide on their own about the topic of conversations and also how long they plan to stay there, before they move to another table.
The atmosphere is totally relaxed, non-formal and supportive. During our meetings we usually managed to have at least one native speaker at each table, which was very helpful as he or she could give us some advice how to use the language, some expressions or phrases. It is also interesting to listen to native speakers, their accent, vocabulary and constructions of sentences that they use. I appreciate this opportunity a lot.
Be positive - try a new experience
Yes. That was a really great experience. The best of it was the feeling of improvement. It was even not only the feeling itself, but there were also all these empirical, touchable and visible real life situations during which I saw that I am getting better at foreign languages that I was practicing at the tables and my motivation was at the same time growing and pushing me to go on.
However, I would like to mention one small factor that can pop up during the meetings and may be a bit disturbing and contra productive. Namely, there always come people who are there not to practice languages, but basically to chat with others, usually only in English as this is the easiest language for the majority and the most widespread. Be careful about that. Try to monitor the tables and support the groups as sometimes they are not brave enough to stop the chatter in English and switch again to German, Italian or any other language.
Anyway, the meetings were great and I wholeheartedly advise you to try. I understand that it may be problematic to at the beginning to find and organize people, but for sure you will find some Erasmus students ready to meet, integrate, cooperate and speak. Once you have started you will see how involving and productive these meetings are.
There was one interesting activity that we usually did at the very beginning of the meeting, kind of warm up activity. For each meeting you choose some category lets say to traveling, children, eating etc. You write on a few tiny pieces of paper some situations referring to this category ( in English) and you choose two people (speaking two different languages) to perform. One person can see the situation written on the paper and has to explain in his/her foreign language what is the problem. The other person has to guess what is being explained. He/she can ask additional questions but only in their native language. Using body language and pantomime is allowed. The activity is very funny and helps people to wind down and smoothly go on with language tables.
Keep my fingers crossed.