Language Exchange for Beginning Language Speakers

So you have heard of a language exchange, and you want to be a part of one, but you know next to nothing about the language you want to learn. This presents an interesting dilemma. To make this clearer, let’s consider a concrete example. You are interested in learning Spanish and you know English. You find someone else who is interested in learning English and knows Spanish. You contact each other, but you quickly realize that there is a problem: neither of you know the language that you are trying to learn, so you can barely communicate. In other words, you realize that the language exchange would progress at a painfully slow pace. What can you do? There are a number of options.

  • The simplest way to do a language exchange when you are a beginning language speaker is to limit your language exchange to text messages, emails, or other forms of non-facial correspondence. The benefits of this this type of exchange, of having a kind of language exchange “pen-pal”, are potentially enormous. For one, communicating via email or text messages allows you to spend as much time as you need constructing the sentences that you want to send back and forth. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, communicating in this way will help keep you motivated during those difficult first months where you are struggling to string together your first complete sentences.

  • You can also have a language exchange with someone with whom you share an intermediate language. What do I mean by that? In the example already given, let’s say that you also know French. If you know next to nothing about Spanish, I would highly recommend trying find someone who also knows French and who wants to learn Spanish. French therefore can serve as your intermediate language, a crutch that both you and your partner can use to communicate as you both get a hold of basic words and concepts.

  • Language exchanges do not have to be between just two people. If you include a third or fourth person in your language exchange, everyone can work through your basic language difficulties together. Once your group begins to have a better mastery of the basics of the languages, you can split into smaller groups, but tackling the problem with many people together can help you get over that initial hump much easier.

  • If you are using, it is important to remember that you do not have to do a pure language exchange. Let’s consider another example. Again, let’s say you are interested in learning Spanish. In order to get around the language barrier, do a so-called “learning exchange” with someone who is interested in learning some another skill that you can teach and who is also bilingual. For example, let’s say you are an incredibly passionate gardener. Find someone who is bilingual on and who is also interested in learning how to garden in exchange for teaching you Spanish. Since the person in question is bilingual, he or she can give you preliminary instructions in English as needed. Similar to the idea of “intermediate languages” already discussed, you can use English to communicate as a crutch until you have learned the basics of Spanish.

Photo Credit: Melina Sampaio Manfrinatti

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