Category Archives: Language

Language exchanges in Madrid

I’d mentioned previously about using language exchanges for improving your language skills and for making new friends, and Madrid has many different language exchanges or intercambios throughout the week. They’re the perfect opportunity to practice your Spanish, help other people practice their English and to make new friends. There seems to be a hard core of people who attend these events and you’ll soon recognise them and grow your social circle. Here’s a list and description of some of the language exchanges in Madrid I’ve managed to attend so far. I’ll add to it as I discover new events. Feel free to let me know updates, so I can keep this list up to date.


Jardin de Bosco – 19:00

This was a tiny bar just around the corner from Tribunal station and Plaza de dos de mayo. The bar had just about enough room to fit the ten people who turned up to the event, but this was a good number to enable everyone to take part in one or two conversations. The glitterballs and music didn’t really help the atmosphere though


Jardin de Bosco – 19:00

This is the same event as on Monday. Again, a small group of about 8-10 people sitting around a table. This makes it hard to talk one-on-one with someone, so if you’re not very confident generally or with your Spanish, this may not be the event for you. If you’re more fluent, you will probably get more out of this. The music was a little too loud, which made it harder to hear people.

Hello Lola, Olé Lola, Calle de San Mateo – 20:00

This is a fancy bar with around 40 people sitting around and chatting in a nice atmosphere. The sitting arrangement means that there’s not as much mingling as there might be at other events, but everyone is friendly and you get to have longer conversations with people. There’s an organiser greeting everyone when you arrive and they give you a national flag, so everyone can see where you’re from. They also have drink promotions for people attending, but I don’t know if they’re great value. I think this is my second favourite event on Tuesday.

Atomic Bar, Calle de Barco – 21:00

This was possibly my favourite event of the evening, which about 40-50 people cramming into a small bar close to Gran Via. The crowd was fairly young and made up of a lot of students. There was a very varied crowd, as I spoke to people from Ireland, America, India, Mexico and China as well as Spanish. Unfortunately, with that number of people, it was very noisy and harder to hear people.

Calle de Valverde – 21:00

This event is arranged by the same person that originally arranged the event in Atomic Bar, but she felt Atomic bar was too small for the number of people going and found a bigger venue. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message, which has resulted in a split between the two venues, so I don’t know if people will start migrating to the new venue or continue to go to both. It did mean that Atomic Bar was a little less crowded the first night of the new location. My only complaint about the new venue is that people started sitting around a small table, which made it harder for new people to join conversations.

El Parnasillo del Principe – 22:00

We turned up about an hour after this even had started, and I think it had already started to wind down, although apparently this was unusual. This did have the huge advantage of allowing me to have a one-on-one conversation with a Spaniard for most of the time we were there, which was very useful for my Spanish. It was obviously an older crowd at this event, with most people being over 40. As this event happens four times a week, I think I will save this for another night.

O’neills Irish Bar – 21:00

This is an event I wasn’t aware of until we were walking home, so I can’t tell you anything about it.


J&J Books, Calle de Espiritu Santo – 20:00

This is a small American bookshop and bar, and they have events Wednesdays, Thursdays and now Saturdays. The venue is pretty small, but around 20 people turn up and it’s one of my favourite events. Given the other events on Wednesdays and Thursdays I’d recommend leaving this until Saturday, but I don’t know if it’s less busy during the week.


Fran from MadridBabel let me know about this popular group held on Wednesday nights near Sevilla metro station. You can read more information in his comment.


Kruger, German 20:00 – 22:00

This exchange was a very small affair with about 10 people in total, with a mixture of Spanish and German conversations. The bar was large, but very friendly and quiet, which made the conversations easier to understand. It’s a little hard to find because it’s in the tunnel between Plaza de Los Cubos (Cine Princesa) and Calle de Martin de los Heros.  If I was looking to practice my German this would definitely be one of the best places to go.

Beer Station, Plaza de Santo Domingo. 22:00 – late

This was by far the busiest event I’ve been to so far. It’s organised by the same people as the Tuesday night event at El Parnasillo del Principe. There was around 60+ people packed into a large bar with a selection of beers available. The large number of people here made it noisy, but this was definitely the most social of the gatherings. I managed to spot four or five people I knew from other events and chatted with a few. Highly recommended.

J&J Books, Calle de Espiritu Santo – 20:00

See Wednesday.


J&J Books, Calle de Espiritu Santo – 20:00

See Wednesday.


Beer Station, Plaza de Santo Domingo – 19:00

This is the same event as the event on Thursday at Beer Station and Tuesday at El Parnasillo del Principe.


See Wednesday.

Which is your favourite language exchange in Madrid? Have I missed any events? Do you have any reviews of these or other events?

How I’m improving my Spanish

I’ve been learning Spanish for nearly three years and my biggest weakness is understanding spoken Spanish. I can read and write fairly well and my vocabulary is sufficient for my level. I think this is because I can take my time to read and to write where as with speech, the other person has moved on to the next sentence before I have had a chance to understand the previous sentence. In addition, I struggle to separate out individual words in speech.

As I’m in Madrid for the next three months, I thought I’d share the techniques I am using to improve my Spanish.

Watching Television

I’m spending a lot of my time watching television. It doesn’t matter what I’m watching, so I’m watching a lot of television that I wouldn’t normally watch. The important thing is that they have subtitles in Spanish. Reading the subtitles and listening to the audio allows me the opportunity to recognise the sounds of the words and associate them with the words I can read and recognise. The other effect this is having is that I am improving my reading skills considerable, as I need to read the subtitles at the speed of the speech. One thing I have noticed is last summer I managed 20 minutes of a film in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, that this year I am able to keep up with the subtitles much better and watch hours at end without too much trouble.

Occasionally there shows which don’t have subtitles, and it’s interesting to see how much of this I can understand. I’m hoping that over time this will improve massively. I have also noticed that watching films in French with Spanish subtitles are harder to watch as the French distracts me as I know a little bit of the language. I don’t know if another language will have the same effect. Watching English films with Spanish subtitles also allows me to see how they translate into idiomatic Spanish.


I am talking to friends in as much Spanish as I can. It’s incredibly frustrating at the moment, with me not understanding everything they say, and having to ask them to repeat what they said, but I’m hoping that this will improve over time. I am attempting to understand as much as I can from the few words I do understand and attempting to understand everything else from context. Sometimes this works, other times it goes hilariously wrong. This is the few things that allows me to practice speaking. I find some people are considerably easier to understand than others, based on their speed, accent vocabulary and pronunciation.

I’m also attempting to talk to people in shops and bars when ordering food and drinks, and this is far more frustrating, as they are strangers and aren’t as patient with me as my friends would be. I’m finding that we have a much harder time understanding each other, but this might also be partly the result of cultural norms in these situations. However, if I don’t do this, then I will never gain the confidence to talk to strangers.


This is a spaced-repetition flashcard application that runs on pretty much everything. I use it on my phone to remember words during spare moments. With a spaced-repetition system, you are shown a word and you mentally translate it and reveal the answer. You then pick one of four buttons corresponding to how easy you found it to remember the answer. and if you failed to remember the program will put the card back into the pile to remember again today, but if you remembered  it easily, it will schedule it to come back up further and further in the future. The idea being that words you struggle with you need to test more frequently and words you find easier are more ingrained in your long term memory. You can create your own anki card deck or you can download card decks that other people have created and there are plenty of decks for Spanish and other languages. I’ve also used Anki to learn topics like all 197 national flags.

Anki is available on online, iOS, Android, OS X, Windows and Linux.


Memrise is another SRS system, however this one is tailored more towards making associations in your mind. Given a particular item, people will add hints, which they call “mems”, to make associations in your mind. For example, To drink – beber: “Justin Beiber can’t even drink yet.” Remembering that Justin Beiber can’t drink will make it easier to associate beber with to drink. They also use a planting seeds, growing and watering the seeds metaphor to refer to learning and remembering the memories.

Memrise is available online and on iOS and Android.


Duolingo is a free online language course. It is great for testing your knowledge of topics, but might not be great for learning grammar or vocabulary in the first place. One nice feature is that it allows you to test your speaking too with speech recognition. It’s organised into several small topics, which you need to pass before you can progress to the next topic.

Duolingo is available online, on iOS and Android.

Google Translate

I find Google Translate very useful for looking up words or phrases I don’t understand quickly. Having it on my phone makes it very easy to check if I understood a word correctly or what it means if I didn’t know it previously. I think it would be a good idea if I started my own Anki deck with words I didn’t previously know, so that I can increase my vocabulary.

Hopefully these techniques and tools will give you some useful ideas on how to improve your language skill too. Remember that you don’t need to travel to the country to improve your language. You can watch DVDs with dubbed audio and many cities have language exchanges if you want to talk with people.


I’ve recently started using to talk to teachers and native speakers to help improve my Spanish (and Portuguese as I’m currently in Rio as I write this update). allows anyone to sign up as students and you can find professional teachers, informal lessons from people who are not professional teachers, but enthusiastic about their language and finally find students who are learning your native language and you can have a language exchange. The taught classes cost some money, with the professional lessons costing a little more than the informal tutoring.

I am currently having weekly Portuguese lessons from a Brazilian woman who lives in Ghent, Belgium and more from a lady in Rio, both over Skype. The cost of lessons are generally cheaper than the cost of a personal tutor in person, with them costing around £9 an hour, although I suspect I could find cheaper tutors if I looked. Some people offer classes around $5 an hour.

Speaking the language and having conversations is by far the best way of learning a language. I highly recommend using to improve your language skills.