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Expat Life

Improve your Spanish language skills and meet new people — and it’s Free!

If you are living in Cuenca and want to improve your Spanish language ability, there are a number of ways to do it. One no-cost way is to visit “Spanish Conversation over Lunch,” an informal gathering of people that meets weekly at the Zona Refrescante restaurant on Calle Benigno Malochl walt logo between Calle Simón Bolívar and Calle Gran Colombia, across the street from the Payless Shoe store.

Spanish Conversation over Lunch is a rotating group that meets Wednesday afternoons at Zona Refrescante to practice their Spanish by conversing with each other about any topics that interest those present.

The only cost to participate is if you decide to buy the almuerzo offered by Zona Refrescante, which typically costs $4 and includes soup, an entrée, juice and desert. The participants describe the lunches as “delicious!” Some participants only order coffee or juice while others order nothing. In any case, the session is free.

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Zona Refrescante on Benigno Malo.

People start arriving around noon and leave around 2 p.m. Participants divide into groups of four to six, sitting in the restaurant’s comfortable booths and change places around one. “That gives everyone an opportunity to interact with different people during the session,” said Roxanne Silvaniuk, the facilitator of the project. “We have a great time discussing anything and everything during our sessions, and it’s great to meet people from all over the world,” she continued.

Roxanne explained that both native Spanish speakers and those learning the language attend the sessions. Those who are not native Spanish speakers come from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and other European countries. The native Spanish speakers come from a variety of countries, including Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Spain, as well as Ecuador.

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Facilitator Roxanne Silvaniuk.

The native Spanish speakers come to the sessions for a number of reasons. Some participate to meet new people and make new friends. Others participate because they enjoy helping people become more proficient in Spanish. Yet others just enjoy teaching.

Those learning to speak or improve their Spanish have been in Cuenca and other Latin America countries anywhere from two or three months to six or seven years, and have a range of abilities from “beginner” to “bilingual.” Participants can range in age from teenagers to seniors in their 80’s.

One of the participants is Jim, a retired physician from the United States. Jim, or “Jaime,” as he prefers, has been involved with Spanish Conversation over Lunch for several years. He, in fact, is credited with originally organizing the activity and getting it started.

One of the language groups.
One of the language groups.

“It’s important that everyone understands that no one is ever denigrated or made fun of because of their level of proficiency or any mistakes they might make,” said Jaime. “We don’t want anyone to hesitate to come because they think their ability isn’t good enough. All of us started speaking Spanish at some time and made those same mistakes. We all work together to help every one of us improve our proficiency from where we are to where we want to be.”

Roxanne said that everyone is welcome to come and observe a session to determine if they think it will be useful in their own situation. There are no attendance requirements, and there is no need to commit to a specific number of sessions. She said, “People can continue to attend as long as they are having a good time and feel that the experience is helping them to improve their Spanish. I’m always pleased to see how many participants keep coming back on a weekly basis. It indicates that people find this program to be really useful!”

The number of people who attend Spanish Conversation over Lunch changes week to week, as do the individuals, but Roxanne said there are normally between 12 and 18 people on any particular Wednesday. “We invite everyone who wants to practice their Spanish in a non-threatening atmosphere to visit with us. It doesn’t matter whether you are a beginner or more proficient in Spanish. It doesn’t matter your age or where you are from. It doesn’t matter whether you live in Cuenca or are visiting on vacation or on a tour. The only thing that matters is that you want to interact with other people while speaking the Spanish language. If that describes you, come and join us any Wednesday at noon! Who knows, you might make some new friends.”

If you have questions, you can email Roxanne at Roxanne.writing@gmail.com, or call her at 098 384 9355.