Language Exchange PART 3 – How to Make it Last

This post is part three of a short series about online language exchange. The first addressed where to go, and the second was about who to choose. If you haven’t read those yet, please check them out now! And now, onto how to make a language exchange partnership last.

Maybe now you’ve found one or more language exchange partners on one of the platforms I shared in the first video, and hopefully at this time you have already set a regular time for you to do the exchange. Now, all you need to do is practice speaking with them. And you should do so with intention. To do something with intention means to do it with focus and with your goals in mind.

Let me share my top tips on how to make your chats more memorable and how to make your sessions last for a long time. The first two are simply, but important.

2) Be willing to both give and receive language help.

My first tip is to remember that you have to give and take. Yes, I said this in my precious post, but it’s an important point. Your language exchange partner is not you tutor, your teacher or you coach. It’s not their job to just sit there and help you. They’re there to get help from you as well. Both of you should be getting value out of the time you spend together, so you have to be willing to give, and not just take. Make sure that every session has equal amounts of time dedicated to each language. Personally, I would use a timer, and have an alarm set for the end of talk time in one language.

In addition to watching the time, prepare to share any of your own experiences and knowledge about your culture. If you have had experience with your partner’s culture, you might want to share any funny differences you have found. Voluntarily sharing will create positive feelings which fuel (foster, create) collaboration. Don’t forget to ask questions to encourage your language partner to share as well. You’ll both feel a sense of reward when both of you share.

2) Aim to meet at least once a week.

Language learning is a marathon. It takes a long time. In order to get good at speaking, you have to speak. A lot. For this reason, ideally you should see your partnership as a long-term collaboration. You should aim to meet at least once a week. It would be ideal if you met more often – like twice or even three times a week, but most people have busy lives. If you want to meet more often but your partner is not able, you could find a second language exchange partner, too.

Take the time to think in advance about which times you want to meet. You don’t want to have to cancel. Obviously, your meeting times must be a convenient time for both of you. Both of you will likely find it stressful if you have to continually renegotiate meeting times. It takes time and energy to constantly change or shift times.

3) Prepare before each language exchange session, take and share notes, and review afterwards.

Believe it or not, many people do not do any sort of preparation before they meet up to have a language exchange. Not only that, but they do not take notes or do any type of review afterwards. This lack of preparation, lack of recording, and lack of review is not surprising, though, because people tend to treat chatting in a foreign language the same way they treat chatting in their mother tongue with a friend. But chatting with the goal of improving your English language skills is different from chatting just for the purpose of chatting.

A similar mistake that people who want to learn English make can be seen in their use of Netflix, or Youtube, or other English-language entertainment. People tend to think that simple exposure, and maybe a bit of casual practice in English will be enough. Exposure and chatting are important, yes, but if you really want to accelerate your learning speed, it’s a mistake to omit any of those three things – preparation, recording, and review.

Preparing your sessions can greatly impact the effectiveness of your language exchanges. Preparing gives exchanges structure, and makes it easier both language partners. There are many different ways you can prepare for a language exchange session, but an easy one I recommend is simply to decide a topic you want to talk about before the session, and look up a few new target language words that you might think will be relevant to the conversation. Try to use these words during the conversation with your partner.

While you are having a conversation, I recommend you take notes. Don’t write everything – that would distract too much from the conversation. If it’s possible and if your partner agrees, you might consider recording the session as well – at least the audio if not the video. I recommend you consider setting up a space where you can share notes or feedback you have given each other, such as Google Docs.

If you use Google Docs, you can give each other feedback live, while you are talking, and then also have a record of your conversation. You can edit the notes later. I would recommend having one file for you and one for your partner. Also, remember to transfer to your study notes any chat notes that took place if you used Google Hangouts or Zoom or Skype.

Review by listening to the recording again, while looking at your notes. Remember that reviewing just once will unlikely be enough. Repetition is so important. We tend to forget 80% and sometimes up to 90% of what we learn unless we repeat it over and over again. You can repeat out loud any new phrases or words that you learned and try to use them again the next time you talk with your partner – or a different partner.

So, for your next language exchange, prepare a topic and vocabulary to practice, take notes and record, share your work and feedback with your partner online somewhere, and review, review, review. Do these things and you’ll see what a difference they make.

Make it happen!  

Online language exchange is a fantastic way to improve your language skills, if you do it right. Thanks to the Internet, learning is at your fingertips. You can pay for your own private tutor or teacher in addition to language exchange. And if you recall from my first video, there are countless platforms which give you the possibility of finding your ideal partner.

Remember once again, though, that the Internet is just a tool. The most important resource for language practice is other human beings. Once you have chosen a platform, set up a profile, and found one or two partners, make sure that you have language exchanges every week, and aim to continue them over the long-term.

If you make your online language exchange all about real human connection, and you prepare, record, and review your sessions, I think your experience will likely be very enriching. You can make your dream to have excellent English language come true – one language exchange session at a time.

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