You must be wondering how being ecologically responsible has anything to do with language learning? Well it’s easy, I am not talking about going green and changing your entire way of life. I would simply like to suggest a few innovative ways of learning new languages, while also keeping the environment in mind. It is a very rewarding feeling to know that you are actually doing something for a common cause, while also advancing your language skills.
The first contact I had with this new economic model was during my first year in Spain. My friends and I were looking for a way to make friends with locals while travelling, which is quite difficult in youth hostels because generally people come from all over the world but do not actually speak the language of the country they are visiting. A friend of mine told me about this new site he had discovered and had used a few times: Blablacar. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s time to put on your Sherlock suit and investigate a little! It was invented by a bunch of guys who thought “I’m always driving on my own, oil is becoming expensive, I’m killing my own planet… let’s turn this around!”. Their solution? Car-sharing!
If you live abroad, like I do, it’s one of the best ways to get in touch with native speakers! It may sound easy to meet locals when you live in their country, but actually, it is quite difficult at first, especially when your level of the language is not that good. The site allows people who own a car to share it with people that don’t. That way, you get to travel cheaper, lower your CO2 emissions, meet new people and practice a language.
Now, when I am planning a trip, I only use car-sharing (except if I’m going from Europe to another continent, they haven’t invented private plane-sharing yet!). Last summer I went to a city called Ronda, in southern Spain, and the driver, a journalist from Madrid, gave me a lot of tips on the city: where to eat, where to see the best landscapes… On top of that I got to speak Spanish the whole time and learn plenty political vocabulary in Spanish. Great practice!
The summer following my first shared car ride, my brother told me about Airbnb, which has now gone viral worldwide. It’s house-sharing; you can rent a whole flat or house, or you can just rent a room and stay with locals in their own home. You will not participate in the food and energy waste that the hospitality industry generates, Instead you will be able to see through the eyes of locals, have a glimpse into their lifestyle and truly experience the place.
One of the best experiences I had in this kind of accommodation was in Argentina last year. After having tried it out several times in Spain and France, I decided to book a week in an Airbnb shared house in the city center of Córdoba. This way I made sure I was going to meet Argentinians. The house was stunning, furnished and decorated with recycled material and old furniture. It was simply amazing, I couldn’t have wished for something better than that. At the end of the week, I asked the host, if I could stay with him for six months, since I had landed an internship in the city, and he agreed! So I got to spend six months with a local -which became a great friend- getting to learn about Argentinian expressions, the accent and vocabulary, and how to make my own furniture with recycled material. Believe it or not, after six months, when I got back to Spain, people asked me if I was Argentinian due to my accent!
The organization that offered me an internship in Córdoba was a Spanish school that also had volunteering opportunities in Latin America. As I worked in the International Relations department, I was in touch with volunteers from all over the world. They all shared their rewarding experiences with me.
I remember two sisters, that had chosen to undertake a two-week long Spanish course in Buenos Aires, followed by a two-month volunteering project in Corcovado. Their role was to promote the conservation and sustainable recuperation of the population of sea turtles that nested in the bay, and allow their long-term survival by cleaning the bay and helping the turtles reach their nest. After two months and a half in Spanish speaking countries, their Spanish level had improved a lot and overall because they were actually living in family homes during the course and with the project responsibles during their volunteering period. So they were fully immersed in the culture and language, and were able to help out at the same time. If at first we were exchanging emails in English only, at the end they were writing to me in almost perfect Spanish!
Though volunteering abroad can be quite expensive, the experience is worth it. You can be part of something that helps the environment, either by protecting endangered animals, repairing damaged buildings, working in national parks or cleaning contaminated areas. Either way, you will be doing something amazing for others and for the planet. You will also meet incredible people from all over the world, get a chance to learn more about their language, culture and working habits. A very rewarding experience!
Community gardens and garden-sharing
After Argentina, I went back to Normandy and spent a few months there. That’s when I heard about garden-sharing and community gardens. One of my classmates was living in student residence next to our university, and as she had no garden there, she decided to look for an alternative solution. She hated buying vegetables from the supermarket, because of the way they are produced, so she wanted to be able to grow her own in a garden. She discovered that there was a community garden close to the residence and eventually asked if she could rent a plot of land. She finally started growing her food. She invited me to go with her during my stay and we met a lot of people, including foreign students. I remember one guy who had been in France for a while, he told us he had met incredible people there and shared a lot of secrets on gardening. He was very happy to practice French while being in harmony with nature.
There was also another alternative, called garden-sharing, in which people owning a garden in the city center would allow people to use it for growing their food. This practice has become very popular, since both the owner and the gardener benefit from it. Rather than asking for rent, owners generally ask for a percentage of what is growing on their land, which means more sharing!
If you live abroad, instead of buying expensive food from the supermarkets, cultivating your own while hanging out with natives can be a great compromise. Even if you live in your own country, you can meet foreigners easily in those kind of places. I only went once and I met an American, so why not giving it a shot?
Noémie comes from a little town in Normandy, France. She studied at the University of Rouen, where she got a master’s degree in Foreign Languages applied to International Business. She is now living in Seville and works as an editor at Lingolistic. Passionate about language learning, she speaks French, English, Spanish and is currently studying Portuguese. Her next objective is to move to Lisbon next year and get to speak Portuguese like a native!
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