Desperate to throw some of my beginner Spanish at the wall to see what would stick, I found my way to 'Spanglish', a weekly Spanish-English language meet-up for Chileans and extranjeros alike.
Rooftop language exchange (photo by David Rojas)
Novice and veteran language practitioners can encounter the group every Tuesday at 8pm at different weekly locations that include various bars. Whether you plan on going solo, with a group of friends, as your last stop on your way home from work, or your first stop in the night's activities, Spanglish promises to be muy buena onda. It combines the helpfulness of a language institute's error correction and the joy that comes from simply getting some second-language words out in front of a receptive audience. It doesn't hurt that almost everyone is liquoring up with the Spanglish drink specials, like CP$1,500 (US$3.20) pisco sours, jus' sayin'.
Valeska, right, introducing two new friends (photo by David Rojas)
The group's creator, Valeska Pino, a yoga-loving architect, got the idea for Spanglish when she couldn't find a decent language exchange upon returning to her native Santiago from time abroad in Australia and New Zealand. She first organized the group in November 2009 with fifteen people, but soon watched the numbers quadruple by January the following year. She now estimates about 80 people drop in to Spanglish each week.
Valeska attributes the group's success to the serendipity of having formed a ratio of 50/50 foreigners to Chileans. Valeska also possesses an uncanny ability to act as social mediator, something she learned through trial and error in the early days of Spanglish. "In the beginning, I assumed foreigners would try to talk with Chileans and vice versa, but the truth is they don't mix, so I said, 'I need to introduce them.'" And introduce she does, constantly moving between clusters of bodies to present one to another, breaking open pre-existing friend circles and introducing new human ingredients.
There's also an abundantly flexible capability of the group that makes the language exchange hook seem like, well, just a hook.
Meeting at an art gallery in Bellavista (photo by David Rojas)
"People can make real friends here, foreigners that come and don't know anyone can feel integrated among friends, into Chilean society, and Chileans can travel without traveling," says Valeska. And then when they do travel, "people receive guests around the world that they met from Spanglish."
Besides the weekly Spanglish sessions every Tuesday, there is the fun Babel project which involves other languages and activities such as trips, tours, barbeques, pool parties, speed dating and salsa lessons.
As a newcomer, Angela says, "I like to be here because I can open a window to the world. I can come often and in a few weeks be abroad." Jose, 27, is looking to go to New Zealand in the future and says, "I continue to come because I need the English for work. It's universal."
Don't count Spanglish out as your real-life LinkedIn either. "I literally got a job out of Spanglish," Ricardo, 24, tells me, although only in week two, he is enjoying his new translating gig.
Every Tuesday from 8pm to 1am
Free event, various drink specials provided
The venue changes weekly, so check the Facebook group (Spanglish Party) for most recent details