Languages and Lattes: A perfect Weekend?

Laura Piccirillo visits the Language Café to see if coffee and conversation can really help with the weekend unwind

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As a linguist with a rational fear of her upcoming year abroad, what better way to immerse oneself in the language bubble by spending a Saturday morning conversing with like-minded linguists and natives. Or rather, what better way to procrastinate in a ‘respectable’ manner for a couple of hours and ignore the already mounting work with some cultural, conversational fun?

Returning this year after popular demand, The Language Café is a scheme hosted by the International Student’s Forum, which aims to provide free, interactive conversation classes for a variety of different languages at all levels of fluency and competency. Whether your beginner Spanish extends only to popular swearwords (let’s be honest, that’s the first thing we all learn), rendering you a dab hand at insulting your amigos, an intermediate French speaker or an advanced native speaker of Mandarin Chinese, the Language Café caters to all. There is even an English-speaking table for those haunted by the days of compulsory language lessons in school and just feel like having a good natter amongst friends.

Split up into tables organised by language, the Language Café’s triumphant return to UCL focused on English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese (Cantonese) and French. If you can’t speak or aren’t the slightest bit interested in these languages, never fear! Every month there is the opportunity to learn and converse in a new language, with prompt sheets on hand with conversational starters to help avoid the initial social awkwardness.

Whilst I didn’t particularly challenge my linguistic competency, the informal, relaxed setting of the event did foster an inviting environment to practicing and learning, free from embarrassment and the stress of being accurate, typical of a formal lesson. There is no doubt that with a larger number of participants and a better structure to the event, the programme could work as a useful accompaniment to any linguist’s study, or even a great way for those keen to pick up another language. With the obvious student perks of being free (a word that sets alarm bells off in every student’s mind) and in the cosy setting of the UCLU George Farha Café, I do suggest a visit to the Language Café. Be warned, however, that the ‘success’ of your visit does depend on your expectations and what you are looking to achieve from the conversation lessons…a chance to meet new people? Learn the basics? Listen to some natives while you sip on a cappuccino? The Language Café is the place to do all these things, but please do not expect full-blown debates on the French existentialism of Camus or Sartre, or the nature of politics in Russia.

With greater publicity around UCL and more native foreign language speakers on hand to assist conversation, perhaps heated debates are the things we could expect for the future of The Language Café. Then again, who wants to discuss existentialism on a cold, Saturday morning anyway?

The Language Café runs monthly. Check the UCLU website for further details, times and venues.