Language Exchange: Offering Valuable Feedback

You have decided to take the leap and find a language exchange learning partner. You have agreed to meet in person or online at a specific time, and now you’re feeling a little nervous. Not only have you never taught anyone a language before, you really do not know where to begin. In essence, you are not really sure how to provide valuable feedback. What follows is a list of tips to help you prepare:

Tip 1: Don’t give fake praise

It is extremely tempting to falsely praise beginning speakers for how well they are speaking, how it sounds like they are almost a native speaker, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong. Praise is good. Positive feedback motivates speakers to keep struggling. False praise, however, helps no one. Your language partner will instantly know if you are lying about their ability; they know they are making mistakes. Instead of helping to motivate, false praise will just make your actual praise seem less legitimate.

Tip 2: Follow the other person’s lead.

Patience is key. It is natural to want to finish your partner’s sentences as they struggle to find the correct words. Unless they specifically ask you for help, resist this urge to jump in and help. Let the other person stand on their two feet and find their language “sea legs”, so to speak. Follow the other person’s lead and you will see that they start to develop that confidence in themselves that is such a vital part of language speaking.

Tip 3: Avoid overcorrecting

If you are helping a native speaker, you will inevitably encounter spoken sentences that are so twisted and grammatically incorrect that you will feel the overwhelming need to perform a detailed autopsy on the sentence in question, listing twenty some odd things that are wrong with it. Not only is this incredibly demotivating, it is also not incredibly helpful. Providing too much feedback at once will inevitably overload the speaker. Instead, just briefly point out one or two things that the person can improve on and continue on. The majority of mistakes will actually never need to be brought into the limelight; most mistakes will correct themselves during the act of listening and the act of practice.

Tip 4: Get the person talking about things they are interested in

I cannot emphasize this tip enough. Is your language exchange partner interested in soccer? Ask him or her a question about soccer. I will guarantee that if you ask enough pertinent questions about their passion, you will find it hard to get them to stop talking. If they are interested in the topics they are talking about, they are much more likely to be motivated to struggle through the language barrier.

Tip 5: Relax

Yes, this is an actual tip. A stressed out teacher quickly leads to a stressed out student, which greatly hampers the learning process. In fact, it is best if you do not consider yourself to be a teacher. Consider yourself to simply be a friend that is trying to help your language exchange partner. A relaxed environment is an environment in which the mind is primed to take in as much information as possible.

Photo Credit: Lee Down

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