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Language Exchange User Posts

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My Language Exchange: Malay for English
A lot of times I have been asked how I got started learning through language exchange, so I decided to write my story. After receiving my TEFL certification, I had no idea where I wanted to work. I knew I wanted to teach and travel, which is why I took this job, but I didn’t know where. After doing some online research, working in Malaysia began to really spark my interest.

I talked to a recruiter at a teacher placement agency and it turned out that TEFL teachers are needed over there, and the agency found a Malaysian school with a position open. After what seemed like endless amounts of paperwork (really), within weeks I finally had set a departure date for Alor Setar about three months out.

I decided that these three months would be a great time to learn more about Malaysia. I bought travel books, searched endlessly about all things Malaysian online, and dove into the Malaysian culture as much as a young woman living in the USA with an internet connection could. Through my studies, I decided that I should probably take the time to learn Malay.

Malay is Malaysia’s official language, so I figured if I am going to live and teach over there for quite some time, I better at least familiarize myself with the basics. The problem was I had no idea where to start, and I didn’t have any Malaysian friends. In fact, I had never known anyone who could speak Malay, and I hadn’t heard of any “Malay classes” being held anywhere close by. I didn’t even know how to say, “How are you?” in Malay.

So I began where anyone else with a million questions would begin: Google. After endless searching, Google let me down. I did not find classes around my area teaching Malay. There were plenty of Spanish, French, and Chinese classes, but none for Malay, and I had no luck finding any private tutors either.

On the other hand, there were some useful English to Malay websites. I finally learned how to say “How are you?” in Malay which is “Apa khabar?” I learned other basic phrases from reading websites and watching YouTube videos, but I honestly wasn’t sure if I was pronouncing or even using the words right. I wrote down what I learned, but I knew it was a crap shoot and I was far from satisfied.

At one point I was talking to a friend about my language learning troubles, and she recommended that I try something I never heard of before at the time: a language exchange. She said, “You know, language exchange occurs between two people who are fluent speakers in a language and they trade. It is a process of teaching the language you know and learning a language you want to know.”

After she was done explaining all of this, I told her, “That sounds great. I would love to do something like that, but the problem is I don’t know anyone who knows the language who I could trade with.”

She said to try some language exchange sites, and then told me about where they even trade other subjects too. That intrigued me, and she said she had found a partner there, so I picked that one to start.

She told me how she made a friend through Lrngo who occasionally tutors her in Spanish in exchange for lessons in Chemistry. Of course, I had no idea what she was talking about until I searched Lrngo and made a profile for myself, and now here I am. So I learned that Lrngo was a social website where you could meet people interested not only in language exchange but learning exchange as well, and yada, yada, yada.

I made my profile fairly quickly with “Teaches: English and Wants to Learn: Malay” in my description, although I had some trouble uploading my picture. (I finally emailed it in.) After a couple of days, I got a message from Alvira in Singapore saying, “Would love to trade my Malay for yours English.”

From there, we hit it off. We agreed to meet up on Skype at least 2 days a week (which we usually stuck to) for lessons in English and Malay. Our first meeting on Skype was surprisingly not awkward at all. It was like meeting someone you never met before, but who you knew was friendly, and it was all done online. Every once in a while there was a hiccup, but overall the connection was good and not an issue, and I was actually impressed being that she was so far away.

Alvira, as it turned out, was a college student. She was very friendly and nervous about doing a language exchange. (I told her it was my first time doing something like this too.) She told me she wanted to improve her English skills because she wanted to pursue a job in business, and I told her about moving to Malaysia for my teaching job.

The language exchange itself was pretty interesting. There were no formalities to it really; not the way regular classroom lessons are. She would talk to me in Malay and I would try my best to speak Malay back to her. She corrected my pronunciations, taught me common sayings, and told me what words meant when I asked. She was always nice and helpful, and usually asked if I wanted her to suggest or correct me.

In exchange, I helped Alvira with her English. Mainly, I helped her out a lot with pronunciation since she was self-conscious about her accent. I also explained to her the meanings of a lot of English phrases, which is a lot trickier than I thought. We would have conversations in English, and when she wanted me to, I would correct her when she said a sentence wrong.

This continued on for weeks leading up to my departure. The most challenging aspect was finding the right time for both of us to Skype, because of the time difference. Usually, it would be morning in the United States and night in Malaysia or vice versa when we talked. But after a while, we developed and found a schedule that worked for the both of us.

After a couple of weeks, I learned how to carry on a simple but normal conversation in Malay. I learned standard greetings such as “Selamat pagi” (good morning) and “Selamat malam” (good night) which I used interchangeably depending what time of day it was over there. (That was usually how we started a session with a giggle, since it was clearly the opposite of day and night time for each of us.) After teaching me, “Saya tidak faham” (I don’t understand), I would use it frequently, and she laughed every time.

Throughout the three months, I became comfortable with speaking Malay and she told me she was becoming more confident in English, and after a while our Skype sessions felt like I was talking to an old friend. Alvira taught me a lot about the Singaporean culture and what Malaysia was like since she visited often. She had a lot of questions about the American culture as well, and I was happy to tell her all about it. (It’s funny some of the things we don’t think about until we have to explain them. I won’t go into detail here, but if you’ve ever done a language exchange you probably know what I mean.)

Once I reached Malaysia, I felt comfortable enough to practice my Malay skills with the locals and even, my students. It became easier to Skype with Alvira since we were on the same time zone. We plan to meet each other in person one day. Hopefully, when she comes to Malaysia or when I get the chance to visit Singapore.

Language exchange is an experience that I’ve truly enjoyed and that I have to thank for the new friend I made. For anyone looking to learn a new language, I strongly encourage trying out a language exchange, and even signing up on Lrngo or a similar site to meet new people. Language exchange doesn’t always have to be done in person; it can be done online as well. (Although as I’m finding now, in person can be really addictive too, especially after you get a good base going.) Thanks to technology, meeting new people and learning has never been easier. That’s it! ☺

Photo Credit: Eric Teoh

lrngo users in over 190 countries

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The Most Difficult Writing System
The trick with pinpointing what is considered the most difficult writing system in the world is that, depending on one’s native tongue, the level of struggle that one individual might experience with a language could be completely different from another’s. For example, if your native tongue is one of the Romance languages like Spanish, learning other Romance languages like French or Italian would be fairly easy. However, learning a Scandinavian language or an Asian language like Korean or Japanese would likely be extremely hard. For the most part, however, if your first language is one of the Indo-European languages (this includes English, Spanish, German, Russian, etc), it’s easy to say that the most difficult writing system one will encounter or try to learn is Japanese.

There are numerous reasons why this language’s writing system is the most complicated for an English speaker, not the least of which is the fact that they utilize two scripts: the Hiragana and the Katakana. What these scripts or kana, as they are referred to in Japanese, are is basically two alternate versions of the same approximately 50-word alphabet. These, however, do not represent an alphabet in the classic sense of the word or an alphabet as used in the English language. These scripts represent the phonetic equivalents to letters. Japanese also incorporates Chinese characters in its handwriting, called Kanji. Now, imagine trying to learn and memorize ONE set of characters, but then duplicate the effort and add the marvel of having to know Chinese ones as well. Seems like a piece of cake, right? Try it.

In addition to the aforementioned lengthy scripts, this writing system is complicated because of its rigid and inflexible arrangement of intonation. Give yourself a moment to think about how this organization works; as discussed before, this language uses not one, but two separate scripts with the inclusion of Chinese characters, which means that each set of these (Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji) has a separate set of intonations. This means that one not only has to learn how to write the symbols for each character in every script, but one also has to appropriately be able to match the correct intonation to each syllable and be able to pronounce it. Is your brain fried yet?

Fortunately, however difficult this may sound, there is a straightforward and uncompromising way in which the inflections are structured vowel or consonant and vowel sound that makes for less of a toil when assimilating them. Yet, when it comes to actually sounding them out, the strictness takes a turn for the worse and makes the process fastidious. Not to mention, one always runs the risk of not being able to sound out the pronunciation correctly, and either make reference to a different word or sound unintelligible. Either way, it’s hard.

And guess what? The Japanese language employs even more specialized language, more commonly known as honorific language, which is used when speaking to elders. With each different level of civility and refinement comes a divergent set of rules and do’s & don’ts. It’s apparent now why writing Japanese and orally communicating with it can become convoluted. Let’s not even mention the grammar- that’s a complex entity of its own. Although the verb conjugation is pretty undemanding (there exist only 3 irregular ones, and its placement is consistent with it being at the end of a sentence), nouns can be perplexing because they can act as adjectives and adverbs too. This can result in a very puzzling reading of things.

It’s important to keep in mind when considering what the most difficult writing system is that the answer lies in the perspective of the beholder. Like all things language, the level of its laboriousness is subject to debate. A native Korean speaker might argue that Japanese displays one of the easiest writing systems available, yet a German individual might argue differently and pin that claim to the Arabic language system. It all depends. For a resident English speaker however, my vote is that the writing system you would have most trouble with is Japanese. So if you’re one of these English speaking people who are looking to learn the Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji- there’s a long road ahead.

Some Helpful URLs if you are interested in learning more are:

LearnJapanese – Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese

9 Hard Languages for English Speakers

Photo Credit: John Hain

lrngo users in over 190 countries

Exchanging Conversation over Video Chat
Language Exchange on the Go
Don’t feel like you have to be confined to your house in order to study, learn, and practice your growing language skills. If you find yourself far from home but still wanting to keep up with your regular language exchange work, don’t fret! It’s completely possible. All you need is a computer or smartphone and some Internet access and you have the ability to stay connected, even if you’re miles away.

Video Chat
This provides a golden opportunity for you to have the face-to-face interaction you love with your exchange partner no matter where you happen to be physically. In fact, many exchangers rely on video chat to bridge the distance gap between them and their partner on a regular basis, allowing partners to come together from all over the world.

Open up that smartphone or laptop and dive into your lesson as you would if you were sitting in front of each other.

Document Sharing
If you and your partner are working on written work—anything from paragraph writing to worksheets—use Google Drive or Dropbox to upload documents and share them for review. By using these platforms to share, you two have the ability to simultaneously work on the same document. Your partner can make changes, add comments, and chat with you so that you can see and understand your mistakes clearly and quickly.

Learn on Your Own
Your exchange partner is a great guide through all the ups and downs of learning a language, but they aren’t your only resource. Use the time you have on the go to work on some practice on your own. Talk to your exchange partner about good podcasts, music, movies, books (or audiobooks), and other resources in your new language to use your time away for good! Find out what your partner is familiar with and get yourself familiar, not only helping you learn on your own, but also opening up new opportunities for discussion.

You can also start exploring online resources for practicing your language. Online games and exercises are easy ways to get practicing from anywhere without sacrificing much time.

Apps are another great tool for practicing on the go, especially if they don’t require Internet access—then you really can start practicing from anywhere! DuoLingo is one of my personal favorites. They currently offer lessons in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese with tons of other languages in progress.

Opportunities are endless, so you can’t say you aren’t home enough to learn a language. No matter where you go or what you’re doing, you’ll find ways to connect, share, and continue learning!

Photo Credit: Jon Rawlinson

lrngo users in over 190 countries

Evening View of Stockholm, Sweden
Your Career Starts Here: Be a Swedish Teacher
Knowing any language is a valuable skill that puts you in a position to bestow unto others that same valuable skill. If you know the language, you have the ability to become a teacher. If you are bilingual or multilingual, you have a special advantage in this department as you can more easily communicate with your students in order to help them grasp the fine tunings of Swedish.

You may be surprised to find how many opportunities there are to teach Swedish if you put in a dedicated search effort. One way to get yourself out there is to teach students one-on-one through online tutoring. Verbal Planet offers tutors a place to post their information so that willing students can easily find them. The online, video chat platform allows students to come to you from anywhere in the world, significantly broadening your range of students. As you probably know, you can also post your information on LRNGO for the possibility of in person or online tutoring, or even an online classroom if you have experience.

You can also contact your local schools and colleges to see if there are any possibilities to work with them as a Swedish tutor, or even be recommended to students seeking help outside of the classroom. If you have a language school in your area, that’s by far the best place to start.

You can also spread the word about your availability on classified sites such as Craigslist and in your local classifieds and newspaper. The key to becoming a successful tutor is to get the word out of who you are and what you can do in as many different places as possible; you’ll never know where you’ll stumble upon someone who has been looking for a teacher just like you.

If you’re willing to take your Swedish to new locations, you have the potential to discover opportunities from around the world. Language institutes and embassies across the globe could have a position waiting for you, so do some research on areas you’d be interested in working.

Of course, depending on how you’d like to teach, certain qualifications must be taken into consideration. Obviously, the first step is a proficient understanding of the Swedish language. Beyond that, you have the ability to teach students as a freelance tutor. To be hired on as a teacher, you should probably do your research on where you’d be interested in working and in what type of environment you will be teaching so you can check on what certifications or qualifications are required to work there.

The fact is, if you know Swedish and are interested in teaching it, you have your chance. Because the language is not as highly sought after as others, you may have to be patient in your search, but that doesn’t mean you should hesitate. Spread the word about what you can do and stay determined—you’ll get there.

Photo Credit: Phil Price

lrngo users in over 190 countries

National Liberation Day of Korea.
Quick Tips on Learning Korean
Mastering a new language can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the language learning process. You may find yourself coming up with questions such as where do I begin?

Don’t worry, anyone who has learnt a second language has felt like that at one time or another. The good news is you can learn a new language, no matter how daunting it may seem! Better yet, there are some tried and proven ways to help you learn your language quickly and proficiently. So take a deep breath and read on, then you’ll have the basic knowledge you’ll need to start learning Korean.

Be Dedicated
The first step may seem like the simplest, but in fact, being truly dedicated to learning Korean is often the missing piece for many learners. Learning any language takes time and commitment, and you will be sure to face some unwanted and unforeseen challenges along the way. The key is to be dedicated enough in your learning to get through the more difficult times and stick with it. Ask yourself the question: do I really want to learn this language and do I have the time to commit to it? If you answered yes confidently to both parts, then you’ve already passed the highest hurdle in your learning.

Find Your Resources
It would be a little difficult to start learning Korean without any resources at hand, and let me tell you, there are tons out there, both free and for a fee. Here is a short list of some of the many resources you’ll find on the web that give you access to some valuable Korean learning material. Make a quick web search yourself to uncover some more of these gems!

As you probably know LRNGO is a site offering a free platform for you to connect with a tutor, online class, or language exchange partner. If you’re looking for a free way to learn, consider the latter option and connect with a language exchange partner. Use your skills to teach them and let them teach you Korean—without paying a penny.

Whether you make use of a paid option or a language exchange partner, having human guidance during your learning process is essential as they will be able to adjust lessons to fit your needs, give you cultural input, and be a conversation partner.

Korean 101 has it all. From outside links to Korean radio, news, and TV for practice, as well as in-site pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar help, you’ll be sure to find this site valuable no matter what your skill level.

Weekly Korean is a site full of valuable tools, but they are best used for their great podcasts. You can listen from anywhere doing most anything and get valuable listening practice. These are recommended for those who have a grasp on Korean basics.

Korean Class 101 is a YouTube channel that is dedicated to teaching the basics of Korean to beginners, for free. From vocabulary, writing, and pronunciation help, this is a great place to get started on your learning.

Digital Dialects is a site that focuses on providing users with free online exercises to help test their language learning progress. This is a perfect way to take a break from rigorous study and see how much of it is actually sinking in.

Make a Schedule
Because of that dedication and commitment previously mentioned, if you’re truly interested in learning Korean, you’ll have to plan out your study schedule to ensure that you make enough time each day for your studies and that you get well-rounded practice on all aspects of the language. Figure out what works best for you in terms of time and material; just remember that you must keep it consistent. Don’t try to cram once a week and expect to see results, spread your studies out daily or every other day, which is much more efficient than cramming all your studies into one day.

Practice, Practice, Practice!
Now that you’ve decided that you’re dedicated, you have your resources in line, and you have a study schedule, your next step is to really get practicing. It’s important to recognize the multilayered components of a language and dedicate sufficient practice to all of them. Be sure that you work on reading, writing, speaking, and listening to Korean so that you really will have a working knowledge of the language.

Photo Credit: Republic of Korea

lrngo users in over 190 countries

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