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The University of Southampton

Minding your language: everyone's talking about a fun new way to improve foreign language skills

Published: 30 January 2009

Czy mówisz po polsku? If you are learning to speak Polish and want to improve your conversational skills, then a new Polish language café about to launch in Southampton could be just the thing to help you make progress.

The Language Café project is taking language learning out of the classroom - and into the deli, pub or bookshop and aims to provide social spaces for people to meet and practice a foreign language together in an informal and sociable way.  Members use venues such as cafés, libraries, bookshops, schools, and even pubs and restaurants, instead of formal classrooms. 

There are 11 language cafés in total in the region, with a new one for Polish speakers launching in Southampton at Room for Food, a delicatessen in Bedford Place on Monday 2 February.  Other cafés cater for Italian, French, Spanish and German speakers.

Now, the project team is hoping to encourage more people to get involved and boost the number of cafés across the region.

Funded by the European Commission, the Language Café project is run by the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS) based in the Modern Languages department at the University of Southampton which has been undertaking outreach work in the local community. 

"This is all about using languages for real communication in a relaxed and sociable setting," explains project leader Alison Dickens, of the University of Southampton.

"We have been working with local libraries, bookshops and coffee shops to provide informal, social settings for adults to get together to practise languages and share cultural interests, and it seems to offer a much-needed alternative or add-on to formal adult education classes."

She adds: "Café-goers typically come from all walks of life and have a wide variety of interests.  Cafés are not classrooms so there are never any lessons or tests as such.  It's easy to get involved - you can go along to an existing café, set up a new one or even sponsor a café in your local area.  Participants need at least some ability to speak the language of the café and not be a complete beginner, although everyone will be at different levels."

Language cafés are run by and for the people who attend them and meet weekly or fortnightly.  Meetings are usually free, although there may be some minor costs involved. 

An information pack with help and support materials for groups is available, which includes tips on setting up a language café, finding venues, and organising publicity, as well as templates for posters

For more information about joining a language café or setting up a new one, and how to publicise it, visit: There is also a blog on the site where you can find out more about the experiences of people who are already part of a language café.

Notes for editors

 The Language Café Project is funded by the European Community and delivered by the University of Southampton's Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, based in Modern Languages in the School of Humanities.  The Europe-wide project has nine partners in eight different countries including Sweden, Turkey, Latvia and Belgium.  Visit: for more information.

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