Last Sunday I stumbled upon a Spanish meetup 10 minutes from my house. I was so excited to go because it was super convenient and it was a way to practice speaking on a day I really hadn't planned on studying anyway (bonus!).
I love meetup.com overall. You can find people almost everywhere that share your interests. It's a great way to connect with people that are passionate about the same things you are. I've found so many groups and met so many new people through various groups on this site, from culturally-aware moms to avid salsa dancers.
For language learning, though, I've had mixed results. I joined several Spanish meet-ups in my area when I was looking for opportunities for conversational practice. Here are the lessons I've learned trying to hone my Spanish speaking skills through going to meetups.
It's Pretty Much a Crap Shoot
Initially I joined every Spanish meet up I could find within 30 miles of my house. Due to scheduling, distance, and frugality (some wanted “donations” for events that were averaging a whopping 3 people), there were many meetups I saw posted that I could not attend. Currently I'm only a member of 2.
Depending on how well the meet up is organized, you don't know if the people that RSVP will actually show up. You have no indication of this based on past results, because meet-up by default assumes you attended every event you RSVP “Yes” for. This means looking at the group's past event RSVPs is not a good way to figure out if it has a decent following.
It's much more valuable to look at the comments. If you see a good number of people that rate the events highly and have comments like “this was awesome!!!” you have a better sense that people actually attended.
You May End Up Being a Student…or a Teacher
Many meetups are intended to be casual and have a mix of levels of speakers. That means that if you're an absolute beginner, you could end up asking someone to translate into your native language every 30 seconds because you're completely lost. Or, as an intermediate-advanced level speaker you may either 1) gets frustrated by said beginners or 2) end up becoming their teacher for the day. It's an ego boost (man, they suck more than I do!) but really doesn't serve your purpose for going. To me the point is spontaneous conversation about interesting topics that should flow naturally.
Chatting with Native Speakers
One great thing is that many native speakers seek out and attend these meetups to maintain their own fluency and are patient with speakers of all levels.
It's also a great test of your ability to keep up with the pace of a conversation with someone who's fluent. It's much different than talking to a fellow student who speaks slowly as they pause to scan their brains for vocabulary and verb conjugations. It's also a great way to be exposed to the cultural cues you would never get in a textbook or even your best language learning app.
It's What You Make It
On Sunday I sat between someone who had literally just signed up for Spanish class and another fellow learner that I had met at several meetups prior. Unfortunately there weren't any native speakers at this meet-up, but I did meet some new people that I could meet up with outside of group outings.
I was also sitting across from the organizer and had the opportunity to make a few suggestions, including letting him know the location was convenient for me and I would definitely attend other meetups there. Organizers like to hear feedback and they want the meet-ups to be well attended and beneficial for everyone. Remember they have volunteers time and money to organize the meetup, so they are committed to making it successful.
No Meetups in Your Area?
I've considered starting my own meet up–mainly because most events are not close to my house. Most of the meetups I attend require me to drive for a half hour. I thought it was out of the question until I read Rachel Myers blog post on how to organize a language learning meetup. She breaks down step-by-step how to organize a meetup without it becoming like a second job. Following her advice, it's something I may consider in the future to have a more targeted group for intermediate-advanced and native speakers only.
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¡Hola! My name is Tamara Marie. I'm a language coach specializing in brain-friendly methods to learn foreign languages faster. I speak English (US native), Spanish (advanced), and Brazilian Portuguese (beginner). I'm a Latin music & dance addict and passionate about helping people learn languages.