So Love's Labors Aren't Lost
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
You may think you’re fluent in the language of love, but just try putting that on your resume.
By Lorena O'Neil
In the midst of a heart-wrenching breakup, there is little reassurance in sayings like “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” or “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”
Wouldn’t it be better to hear “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because you learned another language and have reaped cognitive health benefits”?
Maybe the latter is not as idealistic as the Dr. Seuss saying, but it’s certainly more practical than binging on chocolate and Game of Thrones.
Many people in Argentina are discovering that speaking a new language can make up for the pitfalls of dating.
Many people in Argentina are discovering that speaking a new language can make up for the pitfalls of dating. And they can do so thanks to Spanglish Exchange, a Buenos Aires business started by an ex-pat American, which hosts bilingual speed-dating events four times a week.
Argentines and foreigners alike attend the gatherings, which are held at local bars. The setup resembles any other speed-dating event, except that after five minutes an alarm sounds and you must switch from speaking Spanish to English or vice versa.
The power dynamics often shift with the alarm. Dominant types recede when entering more challenging linguistic terrain, while bashful personalities relax and express themselves with greater confidence in their mother tongue. Both sides look to the other for guidance, even if not always for love.
Maya May, the 35-year-old who launched the Spanglish parties in 2008, came up with the idea while teaching a Spanish class in Buenos Aires. She had learned Spanish and French from ex-boyfriends and thought that combining speed dating and learning a foreign language could prove successful. The concept took off, thanks to all the motivated people looking for relationships, eager to practice their language skills or both. Spanglish Exchange has also held events in the United States and Spain.
“My favorite part about Spanglish is that people often show up solo and then leave with a group of new friends,” said May. ”Spanglish is just as much about networking as it is about learning a language.”
The real genius of Spanglish is that it offers an alternative to the zero-sum nature of courtship, from the feeling that the dating game is full of sound and fury and leaves you with nothing. Even if none of your speed dates work out, Spanglish guarantees you’ve had a productive night. You’ve not only polished your pronouns in another language but also helped others express themselves. Tell that to your blanket, if it’s the only thing you’re cuddling at the end of the night.
Don’t discount the possibility of finding bilingual love in the process. May has had a few long-term success stories, including an Argentine/American couple who now live in Chicago.
May is not the only one thinking of speed dating as a way to learn a new language. Globetrotter Brendan Lewis took it upon himself to practice his Dutch at a speed-dating event in Amsterdam. ”I actually had little interest in finding the girl of my dreams,” Brendan wrote on his personal blog. “The idea of experiencing this speed-dating phenomenon is something I had to try once. …Doing it in a language I’m not yet fully comfortable in just made it all the more interesting.”
Brain research has also proven that when a bilingual person speaks one language, the other is simultaneously active.
In addition to expanding one’s dating pool and maybe finding a life partner, bilingualism offers other benefits. Studies have shown that bilingual people are better at multitasking, staying focused and monitoring changes in their environment. These and other cognitive skills get a boost from a bilingual person’s ability to switch back and forth between languages. Bilingualism can even help shield against dementia in old age.
The most rewarding part of being bilingual: Once you’ve mastered a second language, it is easier to learn a third. Translation: the Spanish soul mate you loved and lost can be replaced by the tall, dark and handsome French guy down the street.
Can you say trilingue?
Maya May currently lives in Boston and works at Kaplan International. Spanglish continues in Buenos Aires and Madrid.