So you’ve come back to Melbourne from a year overseas in Asia. By the end of the trip you were conversing, laughing and living in a foreign language – or at least giving it a good go! Now, for whatever reason, you’re back ‘home’ and you’re looking at ways to keep up your hard-won language fluency. So what are your options? Today let’s have a look at language meetups; how to find them, how they work and how they can be a fun and social weapon in your arsenal for language learning.
What is a meetup?
Language meetups are usually informal gatherings of keen language learners, just like yourself. Given the ‘exchange’ nature of meetups you will typically find native speakers of all languages involved. For non-native speakers of English, language exchange is a great way to make local friends and practice speaking English.
Observe etiquette and try not to be a language hog is another important point to keep in mind. To this end some meetups may have strict rules, for example half an hour of English followed by half an hour of Korean.
Language meetups can take place anywhere you can find people! Cafes, bars and restaurants are popular destinations as are community centres and universities. Generally speaking the meetup coordinator will remind you if the meetup is gratis or if you’re expected to chip in. Another way meetups stay sustainable is by asking each participant to order a coffee or a drink (if at a bar) in way of supporting the venue for hosting the meetup.
To keep my Chinese skills up after returning to Melbourne, I decided to check out what my hometown had to offer. Below I’ll introduce websites to use and meetups which represents the best of what you can find.
What sites can I use?
Needless to say, Google (or your preferred search engine) should be your first port of call. Some language meetups have individual websites, which will include the most current and accurate details. Others may be hosted on the popular meetup.com platform or sometimes via couchsurfing.com. These two websites will require you to register and create a profile, which won’t take too long. After registering, simply enter your target language and location, and the search engine should do the rest!
Meetup.com will be your first hit, guaranteed. Major cities in Australia will often have a smorgasboard of exchanges, meetups and events going on. In regards to Melbourne, the vast majority of these meetups are dedicated to European languages and you may have to dig deeper to find Asian languages. Don’t be put off if the RSVP number is a little on the low side! Many users of meetup are regulars who will turn up on the day – a good idea is to flick through the photo gallery of the meetup to get an idea of the average attendance.
Couchsurfing is a jack-of-all trades by comparison. Its original purpose was for couchsurfers to offer and find couches while travelling abroad. The website has two sub-sections: groups and events. Events will tend to be one-off type arrangements when new travellers arrive in town and are looking for a friendly face to show them around (or let them crash for the evening!). Larger meetup groups may promote their events on the groups page and this is where I found Mundolingo. Keeping an eye on couchsurfing meetups is easier if you subscribe to groups or noticeboards for your area.
The premise of Mundolingo is simple: Turn up, take a flag sticker for any of the languages you speak, order them according to fluency, grab a drink and jump in! The Melbourne event is held every Wednesday evening at a busy pub in the CBD. The crowd runs the gamut from fledging to native speakers of almost every language under the sun, with a great mix of students, professionals and the like. Given the bar setting don’t expect to be able to sit down and grill your language partner on the nitty gritty grammar points that you’ve been losing sleep over. Mundolingo is just like striking up a conversation with a stranger in a pub – keep it brief and keep it fun! This style of language meetup may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re relatively confident in speaking your target language(s) then this is your best ticket.
Korean, Japanese, English and Chinese are the languages you’ll find spoken at Language Connection. Held twice weekly (Thursdays and Saturdays), this language exchange community is an impressive contingent of avid language learners who converge, share language tips and generally talk for a good couple of hours! The participants are on the younger side and given its current location opposite Melbourne University and Queen Victoria Market, there are plenty of university students and young professionals. A great reason to attend this meetup is that it’s a relatively relaxed, seated environment. All participants get a good opportunity to talk – it’s even fine to bring along a textbook to get a hand with your homework!
These are just a few of the meetups I visited in Melbourne. Many smaller meetups are also held that range in size and formality. If you’re fortunate enough to still be at university check to see if your Australia China Youth Association (ACYA) or Australia Indonesia Youth Association chapter hosts a regular language exchange for Mandarin or Bahasa Indonesian. ACYA Monash, for example, has launched its Buddy Program, pairing native English and Chinese speakers. My recommendation is to try out a handful and then find the one that suits you! Whilst meetups may never be a substitute for total language immersion, they’ll definitely keep your language neurons firing and you may make a friend or two along the way.
(I can not vouch for the reliability of any individual language meetup in your area, I simply hope to have scratched the surface to provide a language exchange meetups guide to lead you in the right direction! The venue and schedule of meetups was accurate at the time of writing – check the individual meetup page to find the most current information)
Click here to find out how to study Korean on a shoestring budget
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