Practicing Spanish in Buenos Aires

One of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting any foreign country is trying to speak the language. Not only is it good mental exercise, but the locals will appreciate the effort you are making, no matter how halting it may be.

Unfortunately, for most of us, the opportunities to try out our language abilities are limited to restaurants, shops, and asking directions. If you’d like to expand your horizons while in Buenos Aires, help is at hand in the form of Spanglish.

Spanglish, or the Spanglish Xchange to use its full name, is an informal local organization dedicated to bringing Spanish and English speakers together in convivial surroundings for their mutual benefit.

If you know how speed dating works, you have a pretty good idea of how Spanglish operates. Participants gather at a bar (the locations vary and encompass a variety of Buenos Aires neighborhoods) and sit at numbered tables. Monitors make sure that each couple speaks five minutes in English and five in Spanish, before the pairs are shifted and the process repeats itself for an hour or so.

You do need at least some familiarity with Spanish to participate, but even rank beginners are welcome and they will not be made to feel inadequate. Many of the native Spanish speakers will have limited English too.

I stopped by the trendy brew pub Antares in Las CaƱitas with the beautiful and mysterious woman I travel with to check out the scene and we had a roaring good time. We were greeted by a charming young woman from New Jersey who teaches English in Buenos Aires. She explained the drill and put us at ease.

Over the next hour I met a psychotherapist, a graphics designer, a businessman in the restaurant equipment trade, a television producer, and a would-be English teacher. Not only was I testing out my none too accomplished Spanish, but I was meeting a fascinating cross-section of Buenos Aires society, something that would be unlikely in any other setting.

Spanglish really is about practice as opposed to learning. I did pick up a few new phrases and got some good corrections and guidance on the proper ways to say this and that, but by the time the evening was over I had forgotten most of it. The organizers recommended lessons and pointed out that private tutors are available at reasonable prices via Craigslist.

I discovered that the best thing about attending Spanglish is the opportunity it offers to ask questions about all those things that you’d like to know about Buenos Aires and Argentina. Who serves the best choripan? How do the monederas on the Subte work? What’s the best way to get to Tigre? What does “tenedor libre” mean?

Participating in a Spanglish session costs 30 pesos (about $8 US) and includes one drink. If you are going to be in Buenos Aires for an extended period, a monthly pass costs 100 pesos. You will need to register on the web site at http://www.spanglishexchange.com/