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Before any foreigner heads down to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, or Brazil, there is one thing they must know about the culture: mate (pronounced mah-tay).
Now, what the hell is mate? Mate is a hot beverage with a high level of caffeine (some argue that is it actually mateine, not caffeine) that is made up of natural yerba mate (the mate herb–pronounced shair-bah) mixed with hot water, and should always be drunk out of a mate gourd using a bombilla (special mate straw– pronounced bom-bee-shah). It is so much more than a drink, though. Here, mate is practically a way of life.
Mate originated out in the campo (country) and was used by gauchos (cowboys) to stay awake and maintain their energy for the day. At one point or another, it became widespread throughout the nation and now it is virtually used in every household. At first glance, it looks like it is either a) an outdated, traditional tea that only really old-fashioned Argentines would drink, or b) some sort of drug. In reality, it is neither, and we cannot stress enough how much of a major part of the culture here is based off of mate. In fact, even the production team here at Bueno, entonces… couldn’t survive without it.
As mentioned before, mate is always drunk out of a special mate gourd and done so through a bombilla (as seen in the photo). The yerba(the actual herb of the plant—it looks a bit like marijuana) is put into the gourd, and then the gourd is filled with hot water to the very top. You then sip the mate through the bombilla, which has a special filter at the bottom to keep you from sucking in the yerba until the water is all gone, then you pass the gourd to be filled (with water–you keep the same yerba until it is completely drained of any caffeine or taste) by the next drinker. It is a communal thing, and, although people drink it by themselves, it is most often shared by a group in which everyone uses the same bombilla. Germs? What germs?
Seriously, take a walk around a park anywhere in Argentina and you are bound to find some mate drinkers.
It. Is. Everywhere.
We were there for the most impotant argentinean sports event called The Superclásico, one of the biggest events in the world of sports, a match between River and Boca.
For the intermediate and advanced language student, an exchange with a native speaker is one of the best ways to practice conversation, learn colloquialisms, and develop a friendship with a person from another culture. The only problem is that oftentimes these meetings end up covering the same conversational topics again and again, or break down into English.
If you are feeling that your time with a language exchange partner could be more productive, give these techniques a try.
Pick your meeting place carefully.
A favorite bar, restaurant, or cafe are all fun and popular places to meet with a language exchange partner. However, if your meeting place is too loud to talk at a comfortable level, filled with your friends, or distracting in some other way, it is probably limiting what you are getting from each meeting.
Likewise, if you find that your quiet meeting place is making the interaction between you and your partner a bit stiff, than a livelier location might loosen you both up and spark some conversation. Finding an atmosphere that works for both you and your partner is one of the most important things to developing a beneficial and productive exchange.
Establish a schedule
Another impediment to productive classes relationship is establishing a schedule and sticking to it. Be flexible at first and work to find a time that will truly work for both people. If your language partner is constantly calling and canceling meetings, make the effort to reschedule. If the meeting time is a challenge for you, don’t be afraid to suggest a change.
Initiate your own learning
To make a language exchange worthwhile you must take initiative for your own learning. Take time before each meeting to write out a few situations, sentences, questions, or words that you would like to practice in your meeting. If you notice yourself slipping into English, move back into the language you are learning.
A good way to maintain focus in a language exchange meeting is to take notes. Over the course of a conversation, words and phrases that challenge you will come up and taking notes will allow you to capture this language for later study.
Also, the pace of a conversation can be so fast at time, you finish without really remembering what was discussed. Notes taken from meeting to meeting will allow you to plan for the future and decrease the amount of repetition in your conversations.
Focus on communication
Generally speaking, a meeting with a language partner is not the time to ask questions about specific grammar points. It is also not your job to give lessons on English grammar, even if your partner makes frequent errors. Instead, focus on communication. If both you and your partner can express the intended ideas, the exercise should be considered a success.
That is not to say that grammar mistakes should be ignored. If errors interfere with effectively expressing meaning, or your partner is making consistent, specific, errors, they should be discussed when they happen. Just avoid killing the flow with a lengthy discussion of grammar rules.
Use a timer
With some language partners, no matter how much initiative you take, it is nearly impossible to stay on task. For situations like this, introduce the use of a timer. While it does seem a bit stiff and structured at first, keeping formal time for each segment of the meeting can do wonders for focusing the group.
When you use a timer, try to establish periods of time with specific goals in mind. An example might be five minutes of general greetings, ten minutes of sentence review, five minutes of new vocabulary, etc.
Having regular meetings with a language exchange partner is a great way to practice and improve a foreign language. It is also a great way to make a new friend. With a little planning and the use of a few organizational techniques it will be easy to get the most out of the meetings and have fun at the same time.