At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Language Cafe is a speed-dating event. All the ingredients necessary to make that love connection are there: promising gender ratios, animated conversations, an element of movement and eager attendees.
“Wow, so many hot chicks,” says Atsuyuki Takigawa, as he ogles the women circulating throughout the teahouse where the event is held every Saturday night.
While physical attraction may be important to participants of this weekly soiree, the primary focus of the Language Cafe is to connect cultures and people from around the world through language exchange.
Begun six months ago by Belen Martinez, an expat from Mexico who came to Taiwan a year ago to study Mandarin, the Language Cafe takes place at Du Cha Teahouse (毒茶招待所), a spacious oriental-style tea house located close to Zhongxiao-Fuxing MRT Station (忠孝復興捷運站). With long wooden tables and spacious areas to roam around, it is suited to the needs of those wanting to strike up a conversation.
“Taiwanese are so shy,” says the 18-year old Martinez.
“The Language Cafe is the perfect way to learn about foreign cultures and traditions in a sociable manner,” Martinez says.
Martinez, echoing a sentiment common among language students, says endless hours studying in the classroom and at home leaves little time to socialize. The Language Cafe is meant to fill in that gap. It’s also a “way to see the world” in a comfortable and convenient location in downtown Taipei.
English and Mandarin are most commonly heard, but German, Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia and a host of other languages are all spoken by the numerous participants.
Jon Yao says he originally came hoping to learn a new language, but is now more interested in the people.
“I like the people I meet at the Language Cafe. The social aspect keeps me going.”
And what about romance? Is there a more intimate element to all this social maneuvering? “No, no, no,” says Martinez emphatically. “The Cafe is about making friends. The friendships formed here make everything worthwhile.”
Martinez then added, with a mischievous glint in her eye, “[But] I often catch guys checking out girls rather than focusing on conversation.”
The Language Cafe typically takes place every Saturday from 8pm to 12am, but be sure to search for “Language Club” on Facebook or contact Belen Martinez at (0975) 438-317 before going. Du Cha Teahouse, 55, Ln 160, Dunhua S Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市敦化南路一段160巷55號). Admission: free