Photo by Dee Bitros
Music classes for language exchange
Swap your language skills for music lessons
In the cosmopolitan tapestry of Barcelona life, it is not uncommon to find two people from different countries agreeing to meet regularly for a language exchange (intercanvi in Catalan, intercambio in Castilian). Nowadays, as money grows tighter and people trim expenses, such an arrangement is increasingly appealing, and the free exchange of skills has inspired some people to apply the intercanvi model to other fields. So, for instance, music lessons are now being offered in return for language classes.
“Before the Civil War in Spain, it was common for people to do this kind of trade without the use of money,” said Barcelona native Imma Soler. “I think that exchanges and skill swaps have come back into practice in recent years, as a sort of recovery from Spain’s repressive past during the times of Franco.”
Soler is a singer in a Barcelona jazz/blues band called Paris-Texas, and wants to widen her musical horizons by learning to play the guitar. In return, she is prepared to offer Catalan or Castilian lessons. “I know it’s a bit ironic for a vocalist,” admitted Soler jovially. “But I just never got around to learning guitar, and this would be an opportunity to experience shared interests with someone at no expense other than time.”
Others share the same idea about the concept of an exchange of skills without the exchange of money, but, as several have learned through experience, the concept of an intercanvi can be better in theory than in practice. “I noticed that there are shortages of musicians when I was looking for an intercambio,” said Jean-Pierre Gingroz, a 28-year-old American who was interested in learning to play the keyboard in exchange for English lessons. “Even language exchanges can be tough to accommodate, but when you have to incorporate an instrument into the mix, it becomes more than just showing up.”
As several interviewees admitted, many of those who initially express enthusiasm for a musical instrument/language exchange have found that coordinating schedules can be difficult when there is no monetary incentive. “If something else came up, or if I don’t feel completely up for meeting the other person that day, I don’t think I would have too much of a hard time cancelling on the other person,” admitted Gingroz. “I’ve given up on the instrument exchange [due to a weak response], and I’ll probably just take lessons.”
However, there have been successes. Juan Martínez, 26, a Valencian guitarist now based in Barcelona, was interested in trading his knack for notes for lessons to improve his almost non-existent English. After just over a year of meeting weekly with his exchange partner, Martínez said his conversational English has become fluent. It was hard finding a good partner, he said, and his first attempt failed, but he persisted.
“It wasn’t easy to find someone on the same wave-length as me, but it was worth it, and I’m still doing it.
“My advice for anyone is not only do they need to get lucky and find a good partner, but, since no one is paying for it and we don’t live in that type of culture, you have to commit to a weekly routine and each one needs to be interested for it to work.
A variation on the theme of skill swapping are time banks (bancs del temps). The scheme works like a normal bank except the currency it deals in is minutes and hours. Run by local councils, (see website below for your nearest ‘bank’), the only rule is a one-hour minimum commitment. You can offer to do all sorts of things: are you good with computers? Are you a DIY whizz? Like dogs? Well you can offer to set someone up with WiFi, put up shelves or walk the dog of a person who is housebound.
When you join, you receive a chequebook (as with any new bank account), and every couple of months, you’ll get a copy of your time balance. You earn more time when you donate your skills or help someone, and ‘spend’ it when you take advantage of someone else’s skills. Typical swaps include: financial advice, lessons in music, painting or drawing, shopping, cooking, taking children to school, babysitting, massage, computer advice and translations.
Neighbourhoods with time banks are: Guinardó, Casc Antic, Bon Pastor, Gràcia and Raval. For details: www.bancdeltemps.org