Language Roulette puts a spin on learning Spanish in Chile

The weekly social gatherings mix native speakers of English and Spanish, and set the stage for plenty of practice.

Every Saturday night at 7:30pm, Language Roulette turns a Santiago bar into a lively linguistic exchange, offering real practice in a second language with a native speaker – and a drink to loosen tongues and let the rrrrr’s roll.
In an interview with This is Chile, the event’s general manager Barbara Thomson describes the secret to the newest twist on the old language exchange idea.
“The events have been very popular, because nothing like this exists in Santiago,” Barbara says. “There are places where people meet up to talk, but Language Roulette’s structure means you have to learn.”
How it works
After arriving, participants sign up at a registration table, plunk down their US$8 (4,000 CLP) and pick up their complementary drink. Everyone is assigned a place to sit, across from a native speaker of the opposite language. The first five minutes are all in English – how are you, where are you from, why are you learning English, what’s in this pisco sour – and then the tables turn and it’s all castellano. At the bell, the English speakers shift one seat over, and the game begins again.
And it’s not all work – after half a dozen rounds of Language Roulette, you get some “Social Roulette” too, where you get to talk to anyone you please.
“It creates a relaxed atmosphere, where at the end of the event, you haven’t just learned something, but you’ve also met people from different parts of the world,” says Barbara.
And while the majority of participants are from Chile and the United States, Barbara says the event attracts travelers from Mexico, Argentina and even Portuguese-speakers from Brazil.
Why it works
“It’s an excellent way to practice,” says Barbara. “A lot of people are pretty shy when it comes to learning a new language, because they feel insecure about mispronouncing or not speaking correctly. With Language Roulette, we give people the option to practice while helping another person at the same time, who’s in the same learning situation.”
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the events attract a healthy number of language teachers, who get to skip the cover charge and still enjoy a free drink.
“We invite language professors to accompany us, since many of them don’t have a lot of opportunities to practice their second language in conversation, and they also lend their professional help to the other Roulette members.”
The idea was first born a little over a year ago from a pub crawl, of all things – The Santiago Pub Crawl, a weekly event hitting the bars in some of Santiago’s most popular nightlife neighborhoods.
“We realized that a lot of people came and asked us to speak in Spanish – not just students, but also tourists, because even though they were only in the country for a few days, they needed to learn and practice their Spanish. And on the other hand, Chileans that came to our pub crawls asked us to speak in English. Looking for an opportunity to connect foreigners and Chileans that was a little bit more mellow, we came up with Language Roulette Santiago.”
Quick datos
Where: Bar Eclipse, Loreto 111 in Barrio Bellavista
When: 7:30pm on Saturday evenings
Cost: US$8 (4,000 CLP) and free for language teachers with ID
What it includes: one drink and guided language practice
More information: check out Language Roulette’s facebook page