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Aidan joined the AMIGOS Gap Program in Cuenca, Ecuador. After returning to the U.S. a bit sooner than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he wanted to find a way to keep up his Spanish. This inspired him to create his own language exchange program, a group of Spanish and English speakers who are trying to practice their second (or in some cases, third) language.

According to Aidan, the idea was sparked from a conversation with his host sister, Liss, after he returned to the U.S. “I was telling her how I felt like I was losing my Spanish a bit because I wasn’t speaking it during the quarantine,” said Aidan. “I had been working at a bilingual elementary school where I was able to speak Spanish on a daily basis, but Covid shut that down and I was no longer speaking it in my regular life.”

Aidan’s host family

Liss encouraged him to start this language exchange program for people who wanted to practice their second language during the pandemic. Aidan contacted his Spanish-speaking friends who were learning English and his English speaking friends who were learning Spanish. He says he was able to do this because he had established a broad network of people in Ecuador during his gap year with AMIGOS, and most importantly through his internship at Casa de la Juventud.

Aidan’s in-person English class at Casa de la Juventud

Casa de la Juventud is an organization in Cuenca that provides workshops for young adults to learn skills such as English outside of the classroom. Aidan had been teaching virtual English classes with them this spring, but he wanted something that was more interactive and conversational. They were more than happy to support him, so they helped him get enough participants to have a solid program.

A screen shot from the first exchange

Juana, one of the participants in the language exchange from Cuenca, thinks the timing of the exchange is important because they get to talk about how the pandemic is affecting people around the world. She says the language exchange “is a perfect moment to stop your activities and [have] a great time. You learn new things like common phrases, words, [and] resources to learn your language target.”

The meetings run between 45–60 minutes and are a fun way for people to chat and practice another language with a native speaker. The conversations are a mix of English and Spanish that take place in small breakout rooms of four or five on the video call.

Aidan and his coworkers at Casa de la Juventud

Alejandra from Cuenca, a participant in the language exchange, says, “I decided to study English because when I was a student at school, English was the worst subject for me.  At the beginning, I wanted to give up because I did not understand anything. Later, I started to study by myself. Now, I like it, and I see how important is to know another language.”

She got to know Aidan through his time at Casa de la Juventud, “He created a group in which students can share different topics. I like this group because you can make mistakes without any problem. Also, if you do not know the meaning or translation of any word, somebody will help you. This group is useful for me because during the quarantine, it is the only way to practice my different skills in English. I not only practice listening but also speaking. I thank Aidan for sharing his time and his friendship. You have to be sure that everyone is improving their skills in English and Spanish.”

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