Many people either want or need to learn another language, and are searching for the best method. A language exchange has numerous advantages, and can provide opportunities to practise or learn things which are not often addressed in the classroom.

What Is a Language Exchange?

A language exchange is a great way to learn another language. It is when two (or more) people, who are native speakers of different languages, share their knowledge of their respective mother tongue with the other. For example, a German and a Spaniard could be partners in an exchange. Ideally, when language number one (in this case, German) is being learned, both student and teacher will only communicate in that language. Then, when language number two (in this case, Spanish) is being learned, all communication will be in that language. Therefore, it is reciprocal learning: each person both teaches and learns.

Who Is a Language Exchange Useful For?

Language ExchangesWith determination, anyone can take part in a language exchange. However, it is more difficult with, and for, beginners, as communicating in the foreign language is difficult at this stage. Ideal candidates for language exchanges are intermediate to advanced learners who can hold a basic conversation in the target language. It is particularly useful for those who are looking for extra, more authentic speaking practice, and cultural information from someone who belongs to the target culture, although many different skills can be practised in the exchanges.

How Should One Organise a Language Exchange?

One of the advantages of this method of learning is that the people involved in the language exchange can decide for themselves how it is going to work.

  1. Logistics It is a good idea to meet up at least once per week, for at least an hour. The place should be quiet, so as not to interfere with comprehension of the foreign language. It is also a good idea to go somewhere with tables, so that the learners can take notes, and teachers can draw or write, if necessary. The exchange could take place in a cafĂ©, a quiet space at work, or in someone’s home; it all depends on the wishes of those involved. Setting guidelines, such as deciding that half of the time will be spent speaking one language, and half speaking the other, is also advisable. However, for beginners with a partner who speaks their mother tongue, it may be necessary to use the mother tongue and the target language.
  2. Content of the sessionsAgain, this is up to the people involved, but remember that approaching a language exchange with a clear goal leads to greater satisfaction. Perhaps conversation practice, with corrections from the native speaker, is what is needed. Maybe the learner would like to focus on pronunciation, or they may possibly want to discuss idiomatic expressions which they didn’t understand. Sometimes, grammar is the topic of the day… which can really make the native speaker think! If stuck for ideas, it can be a good idea to read a newspaper or magazine article, discuss the content, and clear up any doubts about vocabulary.

Why Is It a Good Method For Language Learning?

As mentioned above, a language exchange has many advantages, some of which have already been stated in this article.

  • Both parties learn from this arrangement. This means that it is a more equal relationship than that of a teacher and a student.
  • The partnership allows for important aspects of language learning which can not always be learned in a classroom: plenty of speaking practice with a native speaker, and authentic knowledge of the target culture.
  • The sessions are extremely flexible, and address the specific needs and interests of the learner.
  • It is a way to learn a language for free, as all involved in the exchange benefit from it.
  • The teacher to student ratio is excellent! In a language exchange between two people, the learner is getting individual attention, and language input which is at the appropriate level for them.
  • Due to the time spent together, and the interesting discussions had, people who do language exchanges together often become good friends.
  • For people overseas, who are doing a language exchange with a local, it can be a useful way to meet more people, and to tap into knowledge about the area.
  • Language exchanges can also have a more social goal, such as: encouraging people from cultures which have traditionally been opposed to learn more about the other culture, and reconsider their beliefs; improving relationships in cross-border regions; or increasing understanding between immigrants and social workers.

In short, language exchanges are a practical, beneficial, and free way to gain authentic communication practice when learning a new language.