A day out in Spanish/Latin London
Long gone are the days when Spanish was a rarely heard language on the streets of London, tapas was a strange way of serving food, and salsa was something you ate, or danced to… not sure. Spanish and Latin London has increasingly become a daily reality, with 145,000 Latin Americans living in the capital, making them its eighth largest group not born in the UK (the 2011 census found them to be almost as numerous as Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Nigerian Londoners). In terms of Spaniards, there were 63,000 of them living here as of 2016. The increasing number of people from these countries has also meant a boom in Spanish and Latin restaurants, businesses, and entertainment options.
Battersea Spanish’s mantra is ‘Learn the language, love the culture’, so it was about time to get our students out there, where the action takes place. With this in mind, the students of one of our most popular courses, Intermediate Spanish Conversation, embarked upon the adventure of experiencing a slice of this Spanish and Latin London.
In this piece, we highlight some of the experiences, and how they impacted our students.
One of the major players in putting Spain and tapas at the top of the game in London, is the Spanish chain of restaurants Brindisa. Brindisa serves high quality and affordable tapas, and is located in some of the most sought after locations in London (one will be opening this autumn in the Battersea Power Station complex, by the way).
Bruce, a Spanish wine merchant and student of our morning Spanish Conversation class, suggested visiting Brindisa Balham for the project. He and classmate Erica Shinnie took off one sunny day to enjoy a well-deserved tapas lunch. They behaved as good students do and spoke nothing but Spanish. Alex and Sara, who work there, engaged in a lovely chat with them, and shared what made them move to London. Alex from Lleida in Catalonia tells them “I came here more than anything to learn English because for me the English language is the most important language in the world”. They also found out what they make of the food in London, Sara said “You can eat everything here…the Indian food I eat in Tooting is the same as the food they eat in India.” This was all in Spanish, of course!
Back in class, when Bruce was reporting, he noted that even if he had been there tons of times before, he had never once spoken Spanish. Now, he says, he has been back, and has spoken nothing but Spanish with everyone there. And, like that, a new world has opened to him!
Battersea Spanish Students – Erica and Bruce with Alex and Sara in Brindisa, Balham
Elephant and Castle
Martin, Jaya and Anna from the evening Spanish conversation class decided to go in search of the best Colombian coffee in London and found it at Aromas de Café based in the Latin American shopping centre of Tiendas del Sur in Elephant and Castle. This was an important moment for them to visit, as the area is about to undergo a massive regeneration process.
They reported back in class how welcomed and encouraged they felt by everyone there, and how honoured they had felt by the initiative. Martin, a student who started with us as a complete beginner and is now virtually fluent in Spanish, said to us “I had always known that there was a strong Spanish-speaking community in London, this project gave me the push I needed to finally experience it for myself. I’ve already been back, it was such an exciting discovery for me. It was a great way to throw myself in at the deep-end and start using my Spanish with the natives; everyone was so friendly and happy to talk with us! I would love to do this again as it helped so much with my confidence in the language, also going to Elephant and Castle is much cheaper than getting on a plane!!”
Martin, Jaya and Anna document their trip to Tiendas del Sur, Elephant and Castle
Juan Carlos Chiriboga
Chiriboga came knocking on our door a couple of years ago. A big warm smile appeared through the door, and was followed by the gentle voice of a man who called himself Juan Carlos Chiriboga, a neighbour of Battersea and Ecuadorian musician. We had been organising the line up of Latin and Spanish artists in London for our Cultural Cabaret, and Juan Carlos, who had heard about it, wanted to be part of it. The lineup was full, but it was impossible to resist that smile and warmth, so, as we always do, we found room for one more.
Juan Carlos was absolutely brilliant, not only one of the most skilled Andean percussionists and guitarists we have seen in our lives, but so charismatic and a natural at connecting with the audience. In a matter of minutes, he had us all singing and clapping to his tunes.
Isabella, one of our longest-term students and member of the daytime Spanish conversation course, met him on the day, and ever since they have arranged English-Spanish intercambios.
Juan Carlos performing at Battersea Spanish’s Cultural Cabaret
For this project, Isabella suggested that she and her classmate Angela met with Chiriboga. Angela, who was planning a trip to Ecuador, was thrilled. They arranged to meet over a glass of wine at the Battersea Arts Centre. Juan Carlos starts by telling him about his life in this city. Like many Latin American artists in London, he combines his music gigs with other jobs, such as waiting tables in a café. Juan Carlos tells them that he came to London to expand his skills as a musician, as there are many more opportunities here. Angela and Isabella wish him the best, and we feel confident that he will succeed, as his talent as a person and an artist are immense.
As the afternoon winds down, they say their farewells and head back each to their homes. One day they will run into him after their Spanish class, or before, or on their way home, and it will be a confirmation that yes, Latin and Spanish London is here to stay.
You can listen to an extract of the conversation of Bruce and Erica below, and you can find out about our evening and daytime Intermediate Spanish Conversation Courses here, and course for advanced speakers here.