Hull, like most cities, is home to a mixture of people. And every other Wednesday evening there’s an event which invites many of these people to share in the delights of their varied personalities.
A year and a half ago, Hannah Shaw decided to start a Language Café in this city where so many cultures live side by side. She got the idea while travelling in Europe, an opportunity undertaken through ERASMUS. Living abroad, these events seemed common, and offered a chance for someone new to the area, and not always confident in the native lingo, to meet new people and immerse themselves in both the language and lifestyle.
Upon her return, she realised that Hull didn’t have anything available to the general public in the way that they were so readily available in mainland Europe. So, she set one up.
“The cake helps!”
Originally held at Wagons on Princes Avenue, it then moved to the intimate Lydia’s Cakeaway on Newland.
The venue is quaint and simple, and what makes it truly splendid is that it is open solely for the purpose of the Language Café on these nights. From 7pm to 9pm, people from all over Hull come to drink tea, eat cake and discuss whatever they feel capable of in whichever language they choose. Whether you’re studying a language, reengaging with a lost language or are holidaying soon and want to learn some useful phrases, you are made welcome at this fortnightly gathering – which has been known to get very busy, as Hannah described nights where there had been standing room only and she was filled with guilt as people turned away.
“Friendships have been made here.”
When you first enter, the room is flowing with conversation. Some you can pick up; other segments are lost in a language you may not know. You’re given a sticker on which is written the languages you wish to practise: some have one language, while others have two or three. There’s tea, coffee and delicious tempting cakes.
The crowd is one which quickly feels friendly. On my first Language Café night, I was quickly invited to join the main group. It was a quiet night – the university students on a break – and I was nervous about testing out my shaky language skills on strangers. But after a few minutes of chatting in English, we launched into a conversation in German, learning about each other in a language in which I was once fluent. I wasn’t anxious for long, and, although my German is very unstable, I found I was laughing at the jovial stories and enjoying the broken flow of words. We stumbled over vocabulary, we jumbled the grammar somewhat, but we successfully managed a conversation almost entirely in German.
And two Wednesdays later, I was filled with anticipation as I took those steps along Newland Avenue. The lure of using my language skills again stronger even than the desire for a cupcake of some ingenious design.
“This is migration to Hull.”
There are people of all ages and nationalities who attend. When asked how many languages she’d encountered over the eighteen or so months, Hannah stumbled. She rattled them off: French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Persian, Thai… languages spoken by people from Europe, South America, Asia… A true mixture and a reflection of the diversity in this small city.
Most advertising is done word of mouth. There’s a Facebook page and events are set up in time for each event. There’s the board in Lydia’s with the necessary details. But from that point it is people like myself who have attended for a few nights and then shared their experience with friends and family.
We all share language. Not everyone has the desire to learn several, but what can be enjoyed on the night is this one thing which joins us all together. The crowd not only share their knowledge but also their experiences and their differing cultures. People gather with the confidence that they will not be judged, that we are all there to enjoy this same thing and learn with enthusiasm.
The next meeting is Wednesday 8th June.
Originally written for Browse Magazine, culture section.