Learning language over drinks

On different days in restaurants around Jerusalem Talk Café offers get-togethers in a variety of languages.

Talk Café meets in restaurants around the city (photo credit: VICTORIA KEZRA)
Talk Café meets in restaurants around the city
(photo credit: VICTORIA KEZRA)
In a festive, brightly lit and colorfully cheerful café, a group of people are happily chatting about holidays in French over sandwiches and pasta. It’s not exactly what one would expect when thinking of a language class, but perhaps that is Talk Café’s appeal.
“We started Talk Café a year ago. It came out of the idea that we wanted to do a less formal way of learning a language or preserving the language that you have,” says founder Moshe Beigel. “We wanted to do it in a light way, a social way, not a formal talk. We wanted people to sit down and talk and relax over a cup of coffee.”
Moshe and his wife, Rafaella, were in the language business previously, working with a language company that gives more formal classes for people needing to learn a language for work, but the idea of Talk Café was to give people a more practical avenue for practicing a language while making new friends in a relaxed atmosphere.
“People keep saying they’ve been to university or they’ve been to ulpan, but they haven’t gotten an opportunity to talk – and that stops them from moving on from being able to read something or chat in the language,” says Beigel.
On different days in restaurants around Jerusalem, Talk Café offers get-togethers for seven languages in a variety of levels, from beginner to advanced. For NIS 50 a session or NIS 355 for eight, people can choose from French, Hebrew, English, Spanish, Yiddish, Italian, German and Arabic. The couple hopes to eventually incorporate Ladino and sign languages, as well as expand further out to Tel Aviv.
Talk Café meetings start with topics that are introduced at the beginning of each session along with some relevant word. A fluent language teacher guides the conversation and helps chatterers if they stumble.
“At the Hebrew ones we have a lot of olim. I had someone who, when we did banking one week as a discussion topic, he came up to me a week later and said, ‘Moshe, thank you very much. I went to the bank today and I screamed at my bank manager in Hebrew for the first time in 10 years.’ If you can speak the language, you feel you belong here much more,” explains Beigel.
For some people it may be about being able to interact with a new culture, and for some the value of Talk Café is holding on to the past. At this particular meeting the topic is holidays, and although the conversation started with Purim, Beigel points out that the group – including my colleague, who accompanied me to the restaurant due to his knowledge of French – was now happily chatting about Queen Vashti’s role in feminism over a plate of sandwiches.
“Some people come to two or three languages a week because they enjoy they experience of the social setting, chatting in a language which they wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak otherwise.”
The business has attracted most of its members through word of mouth and some calendar listings, and seems to be thriving. The common goal of having more applied practice of a language brings together a variety of people to every session. As the meeting wraps up, I notice my coworker trading contact information with some of the women from the French group, and Beigel smiles.
“In our Arabic class we have someone who is in a secret unit in the army who speaks Arabic, and a student from one of the settlements who speaks a little bit of Arabic who wanted to know more. In walked these two girls who were in for the summer to stay with their family and learned Arabic in Sunday school, but they couldn’t speak the language. They couldn’t speak with their family, but knew many words from the Koran. They sat next to the army guy, the settler and two Americans Muslims, all sitting chatting at a table, eating a bowl of soup and talking in Arabic, probably about something unimportant,” recalls Beigel. “This is fun, this is absolutely fun. This is for your soul. People need language; it’s become the way of the world.” • For more information: talkcafe.co.il