Language Amigo Comes to Life!
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Like the beginning of many good friendships or, “amigo-ships”, if you will, I encountered Language Amigo totally by chance in the most fortuitous of circumstances. I’m a PhD student at the University of Oxford studying public policy and for a number of years I have also been learning Spanish. To put it more precisely, I’ve been doing exercises in Spanish textbooks and trying to rote learn the grammar in between sputtering outbursts of speaking in classroom settings. Earlier this year I had the fortune of meeting the Language Amigo team and participating in some trial calls as they worked to get their platform up and running. For me, it was perfect timing; in a few months time I was scheduled to go to Colombia to do fieldwork for my research and to say I was nervous about my language skills would be an understatement. Although my reading ability had reached a decent level and my grasp of Spanish grammar was solid, the dearth of opportunities to practice sustained conversation with native speakers had left me lacking confidence when it came it actual real-life interactions in the language.
The first call I had was with Brayan from Mexico. Despite some very minor technical problems that were natural to it being one of Language Amigo’s first trials of their platform, it was really fun experience. After overcoming the initial nerves, I had a good 20-30 minutes of conversation with Brayan. It was a refreshing and very welcome experience to be just able to chat about everyday things such as our interests and lives in our respective homes without the restraints in terms of time and being constantly corrected that exist in the classroom. As an Amigo Brayan was friendly, welcoming, patient, and helped me with the language in a natural way that facilitated ongoing conversation. Even despite the minor technical hitches I probably spoke more Spanish in that short time than I would in an entire class! A few weeks later I had another call with Language Amigo, this time with Adrian from Colombia. This time the call proceeded without a hitch and we chatted in Spanish for almost an hour! Again, Adrian was an attentive and friendly Amigo and as I was going to Colombia not that long afterwards it was an amazing opportunity to practice hearing the local accent and pick up some useful local phrases ahead of time - !Qué chévere!
Fast forward a few more weeks to today and I’m currently in Colombia for my research, relishing the opportunity to also practice my Spanish almost all day, every day. It was definitely jumping into the deep end when I arrived but I can definitely thank the calls I had with Language Amigo for helping build my confidence to hit the ground running here with confidence and a smile. I can feel my language skills continuing to improve each day and it’s really down to just having time to use the language naturally and with native speakers. This is something that I really lacked throughout my years of studying Spanish and I know I’m not alone. It’s obviously not possible for every student to spend significant time in a Spanish-speaking country while they’re studying, but with the extend of global communications technology today there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t get the opportunity to practice their conversation skills with native speakers. Ana Maria, Macarena, and their team are working to make this a reality. For me, it has even become a physical reality as I met up with Adrian in person here in Colombia and have had some great times with him, his girlfriend, and friends including going camping in the beautiful Tatacoa desert – like true amigos! This has all just been the tip of the Language Amigo iceberg and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow.