Learning about other cultures while learning a language

If you want to learn Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German or any other language, the language groups at SPEAK will help you build your vocabulary and hone your speaking and comprehension skills. But that’s not all. The SPEAK experience isn’t just learning foreign languages, it’s also learning about other cultures. That’s what makes the SPEAK language and culture exchange so unique.


Learning about other cultures-SPEAK language groups
A SPEAK session

SPEAK language groups

Roberto Primavera found that out when he participated in a Russian language group at SPEAK, in his native Turin. It included a trip to a Russian restaurant, a traditional Russian meal cooked by the group, and the chance to watch Russian movies in class and at a local Russian film festival. Roberto says, “during the SPEAK sessions, sometimes we took tea, and not coffee, as is more common in Italy. So, I found out they drink a lot of tea accompanied by different sweets that they make  at home.” Activities like these can foster a greater appreciation for the culture, customs, and perspectives that have shaped the language you’re learning.

Sometimes what you learn about other cultures can have professional applications. Christine Eamer is a Canadian who works at the Canadian embassy in Berlin as a migration program assistant. She took a basic language group in Arabic at SPEAK. She says “Having learned other languages in the past, I have found one of the most valuable aspects is the deeper understanding of a culture that comes along with language learning. There’s been an increase of Arabic speakers in Europe and also my interest in migration topics is growing. So I became especially interested in gaining more knowledge of the cultures represented in the Arabic-speaking world. I was very pleased to see SPEAK offering Arabic language groups.”


Learning about other cultures-SPEAK cultural events lisbon picnic
Lisbon Picnic

SPEAK social events

You don’t just learn about the culture related to the language you’re learning, however. You’ll also be learning about other cultures, many of them from distant parts of the globe.

Much of this happens at SPEAK social events, such as picnics; film showings; parties; holiday celebrations; potluck dinners to which participants bring traditional dishes from their home countries; and language exchanges, where you get to speak to someone for two or three minutes in a particular language before changing partners. Some of the events feature cultural quizzes and word games. Maria Picciolo, who’s from Italy, and has learned Spanish and helped others learn Italian at SPEAK Madrid, went to one. She says “We had this event where all the participants and buddies in Madrid got together, and we had to answer questions about our countries. It was very funny!”.

This cultural cross-pollination also occurs during the language group sessions, where participants learn from their buddies and from each other. Christine, who helped others learn German at SPEAK, says “I have truly been able to get small snippets of ideas about so many worlds through SPEAK. I find that the language groups and the social events facilitate interesting conversations that you would otherwise not have. Through these exchanges, you quickly make comparisons, and everyone ends up with a better understanding of each other. It has been enlightening to gain perspectives on so many different cultures in one short year. Through SPEAK, it is possible to gain some of the great advantages of travel while remaining at home.”

Mirna Vela, a Croatian who learned Spanish at SPEAK Madrid, says: “I learned so many cultural things. One thing that was very new to me is that, through SPEAK, I made a Brazilian friend and I learned about Brazilian food from her.”


Learning about other cultures-woman at the brazilian carnival
Brazilian carnival

Learning about other cultures

Pierre Masci, a Frenchman who learned Portuguese and helped others learn English and French at SPEAK Lisbon, mentioned some of the things he learned about. “Brazilian dances; clothes from Guinea-Bissau; the differences in mentality between China and Europe in terms of individuality and society; what’s happening politically in Iran at the moment, and bits of traditional dancing from Iran; a lot of Portuguese slang that even some Portuguese people don’t know; and the recipe of the French galette des Rois, which is actually more simple and delicious than I would think.”

“When I was a buddy in a Portuguese language group, I had a participant from Cameroon who told us that the name of his country came from Portuguese, from the word “camarão,” which means “shrimp,” said Anna Khairullina, who’s from Russia and helps others learn Russian and Portuguese at SPEAK  Turin. Also, “one participant who was from Pescara, a city on the Adriatic coast of Italy, told us about the rural festivals in her region.”

Ana Carvalho, is from Lisbon, where she helps others learn Portuguese at SPEAK. She says, “I learned from participants about things like the food of their countries; the languages of those countries; and about the history, how they won their independence.”


Learning about other cultures-Holi festival
Holi festival

 We all are different, but we all are people

Gabriel Amarista Rodrigues, who’s originally from Venezuela, and has helped others learn Spanish and learned Portuguese and English at SPEAK Coimbra. He says: “I personally have been in several events and language groups, have talked to tons of people and shared lots of stories. Some interesting stories stay with you”. Gabriel said that he had learned about “different perspectives on popular topics, what people are most proud of in their cultures, places to go, food to eat, the travelling lifestyle.” But the most important thing he had learned was that “we all are different, but we all are people. If you have stories to share, that shy Asian guy in the corner must have his own, too”.

“People are different, but if they went all the way to get out of their country to yours, they surely have an interesting story to tell and a life mission to accomplish. Sharing those is for me the best experience of them all in the SPEAK community.”


Learning about other cultures-art cultural painting woman

We have a more in common than we think

The fact that participants and buddies at SPEAK are exposed to so many new cultures means that they can see not only the differences between cultures, but also what they have in common.

“I’ve learned that culture is very complex and has many sides and levels to it. I have also confirmed that all cultures share many basic similarities” said Gavin Petersen, an Australian who learned Portuguese and German and helped others learn English at SPEAK Leiria. Gavin has already had much international experience. His wife is British-born and Australian/British by upbringing. They lived in Australia, Brazil, and the United States before moving to Portugal a few years ago. Wherever they were, they became active in a variety of Christian churches, so it exposed them to many cultures through close and enduring friendships with locals, immigrants, and refugees. “Our children are third-culture children”.

In Leiria, Gavin and his wife have also expanded their cultural horizons through SPEAK. It “has given us yet another look at how people relate to each other as they try to understand cultural and linguistic differences and similarities. This has happened in sessions and social events.”


Learning about other cultures-SPEAK Village people sharing and talking
SPEAK Village

Appreciate other cultures

Isa Parra, is a Chilean who helps others learn Spanish and learns English and German at SPEAK Berlin. She says “The things that I´ve learned at the SPEAK events are the stories behind the people. What brought us here, what we have in common, and what makes us different. I have approached cultures that seemed distant from my country, different and even strange. I have noticed how things that seemed logical and normal to me in Chile look strange when seen from the perspective of someone from another country. In cultural terms, I´ve learned that nothing is good and wrong, that no one is normal, that we are all different and that cultural difference enriches.”

Lía Tabilo, who’s also from Chile, has learned Italian and helped others learn Spanish and Portuguese at SPEAK Lisbon. She says “I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that somehow cultures always have common places. So I guess relating to people is just easy, and kind of natural, if you are brave enough to share your own world and curious enough to let people show you theirs.”


What does it all lead to?

Now you understand how one can learn about other cultures as well as other languages at SPEAK. But it goes beyond that. You can learn languages, sample the delights of international cuisine, and learn about interesting customs and traditions of other countries. But what does it all lead to? Simply this: you will learn to appreciate the cultures of others while helping them to appreciate your own. And, in doing so, you will gain a broader understanding of the world.

If you are ready to join us, get ready to open your mind and Share Your World!


Author: Joanne E. Gerber

Joanne has been specializing has an editor and copy editor in international economic and social development for over a decade. She is fluent in French and proficient in Spanish.

4 Replies to “The power of learning about other cultures

  1. Thank you so much for posting those useful advices, very interesting. I’m totally going to read some of those blogs. I’m trying to learn Spanish, so I’m finding new ways to do so. I also found a new app, where you can learn new language with flashcards which is way more funnier than the usual learning method 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *