By Rei Goto
19 March, 2018

As a language learner, what is one thing you wish you had more of a chance to do? For many, the answer is having people around to practice with in the target language.

One club in Washington, D.C., is offering language learners a chance to do just that.

Conversational DC plans informal, free events in seven languages. The gatherings take place at Washington-area cafes or bars. Participants buy a drink and practice the language as much as they can. Speaking English is discouraged.

Lauren Aitken started Conversational DC last year. She describes it as a "language immersion social club."

The club welcomes learners of all levels. Some are just beginning their studies. Others are already fluent speakers of the language. They can wear stickers that say "facilitator." They are there to answer questions and help guide conversations if needed.

Aitken described Washington as the "perfect city" for a club like Conversational DC. In America's capital city, many people are learning one or more new languages, either for work or just for fun.

"I think DC is a place that attracts people that are curious about the world. Because of that, I think it's one of these perfect cities for something like this, where it requires you to to get out of your comfort zone a little bit and take a chance by speaking in another language."

Conversational DC
Conversational DC

Conversational DC has held more than 30 events in seven languages, including French, Spanish and Arabic. Spanish is its most popular language, Aitken said.

Its newest language? Japanese.

VOA Learning English intern Rei Goto is an international student from Japan. Last month, he attended the club's first-ever Japanese event. Like many Conversational DC events, it took place at Colony Club, a bar and coffee shop in D.C.'s Park View neighborhood.

Goto spoke with Japanese learners and speakers.

Steve Pelcovits attended the Japanese event. He is an alum of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program, or JET. The JET Alumni Association sponsored the Conversational DC event.

Pelcovits has lived in Japan two times. He first became interested in the language through Japanese video games when he was young. He decided to begin studying Japanese with a tutor.

Pelcovits is now a graduate student living in D.C. He says he does not get that many chances to practice or use his Japanese.

He plans to return to Japan this summer. In Japanese, he told Goto, "I will move back to Japan next summer for work. So, I want to practice speaking Japanese before moving back."

Vishal Jani is also a JET program alum. He came to the Conversational DC event with his girlfriend, who is Japanese. He said he enjoyed the event because it offered a fun, relaxed environment for practicing Japanese.

"This event has good beer, good people and ping pong. It's really fun," he said in Japanese.

Jani added that Conversational DC offers him a chance to talk with and meet people who "know Japan."

"I feel more connected to Americans that know Japan than I do connected to Americans that don't know Japan. I know it sounds very cliché, but that is the reality of my situation because I was there for so long."

Aitken said she hopes the club will hold another Japanese event in the future. And she says the club will continue to add new languages, including Mandarin Chinese and Russian.

Aitken added, "I love languages, I love their abilities to connect people across cultures and connect people around the world."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Rei Goto wrote this report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Are there clubs or events like Conversational DC where you live? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

immersion­n. complete involvement in some activity or interest

host v. to be the host for (a social event, a group of people, etc.)

discouraged v. to try to make people not want to do (something)

fluent ­adj. able to speak a language easily and very well

facilitator n. someone who helps something run more smoothly and effectively. [facilitate - v. to make (something) easier : to help cause (something)]

alumn. someone who attended or graduated from a particular school (or taken part in a particular club/organization)

tutor n. a teacher who works with one student

graduaten. a holder of an academic degree or diploma

relaxedadj. calm and free from stress, worry, or anxiety : not worried or tense

clichén. an idea or phrase that has been used so much that it is not effective or does not have any meaning any longer.