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A free exchange of language

A free exchange of language

Learning a new language es difícil, but hanging onto it can present an even greater challenge. Fortunately, a small but burgeoning scene of language exchanges in Rochester is helping locals hone their multilingualism.

Linguistico, a language exchange group, is leveraging the cosmopolitan nature of Rochester to help people preserve and grow their language skills. The group meets from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Sunday at Grand Rounds Brewing Company, 4 Third Street Southwest.

The English-language practice group run by the Rochester Public Library is on hiatus for the summer, but a Spanish language group, run by Dave Legler, still meets there from 7 to 9 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month.

These exchanges are informal, with no set topics of conversation or requirements of how long to stay. The only real requirement is a willingness to learn.

At Linguistico, regulars are fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and sometimes German or Italian. Since the group is meant to be an exchange of languages, according to founder Amber Galbreath, people interested in improving their English skills are also welcome.

Galbreath, a Rochester native, founded the group after moving back to the city. She lived in Colombia for about five years, then Brazil for two more. She did not want to lose the skills she’d built up to disuse.

“Language has always been an interest of mine, and a hobby,” said Galbreath, who speaks Spanish, Portuguese, English, and is studying Punjabi. “I kind of looked around Rochester and I didn’t really see that there were opportunities to practice language for free.”

Rochester Community and Technical College and Community Education both offer classes, but they require a fee and a more structured environment.

Galbreath wanted to re-create the atmosphere of language exchanges she had encountered while abroad. These are informal spaces where foreigners would teach natives English and would in turn be taught Spanish.

“They’re such a big thing in Latin America,” she explained.

After settling on a name and logo, Galbreath posted to every community calendar she could find. She also posted to Mayo classifieds and hung up a few posters. These days, the group typically attracts around a dozen people, with some members driving all the way from the Twin Cities to attend each week. Others may attend just once while passing through Rochester — a phenomenon not uncommon to language exchanges in other countries.

The group meets in the back section of the restaurant and, on special occasions, Galbreath will make sure the table is stocked with appetizers. She also keeps conversation starters in reserve, in case things stall, but that is not typical.

At the meeting we observed, chatter among the group flowed quickly and steadily. It’s informal, so there are no rules about when to interrupt and correct people, meaning members can apply their own learning styles. Galbreath, for example, brings a notebook to record new words in.

Since launching Linguistico, she’s been approached by people wanting to create their own version of the group — a sign of a growing demand for exchanges. With any luck, Galbreath will be among the last ex-expatriates to come back to the city without a fun, free way to stay multilingual.

“This method works for me, because you have to be motivated and like something to continue doing it,” she said. “And this is something for me that I can do every week and be social and keep up with my language skills.”

Bryan Lund covers politics and culture for Med City Beat.

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