Columbia Association's World Languages Cafe sparks conversation

(Noah Scialom / Patuxent…)
July 22, 2013|By L'Oreal Thompson

Once a month, the cafe at the Wegmans in Columbia becomes a hub of international languages. At one table, you may find a group of people speaking Spanish. At the next table? Arabic.

Sponsored and hosted by the Columbia Association, the monthly World Languages Cafe meetings provide a fun and free evening of “conversation, food and culture,” according to Laura Smit, CA’s program manager for international exchange and multicultural programs. Smit, who started the cafe in March 2013, came across the idea in an article on a linguistic cafe in Leipzig, Germany, a few years ago.

“The idea is to have a cafe, somewhere people could practice different languages either because they were learning a new language or they wanted to travel there,” says Smit. “Or it could be a language they learned in their childhood and want to pick it back up.”

And, no, you don’t have to be fluent. But in an effort to keep the flow of conversation going, it is recommended that you have some familiarity with the language.

“It’s about conversation and getting to practice,” says Smit. “It’s not a language class -- it’s a conversation session.”

Currently, the World Languages Cafe offers about 14 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

The cafe meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Wegmans Cafe in Columbia. Participants are invited to join the language table of their choice, and they’re able to rotate throughout multiple tables. Once there, native speakers help facilitate the conversation.

“There’s something about language and culture that people really tap into,” says Smit. “You don’t just learn the language in a vacuum -- you’re learning the culture as well.”

The next World Languages Cafe is scheduled for Aug. 28. For more information, go to or call 410-715-3162.

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