Language is a social function or tool if you like and as such, one of the best ways to acquire new language skills is to be social – in other words to just go and talk to people. However you can’t just start trying to talk Japanese/French/Spanish/Whatever-you’re-trying-to-learn to random people you meet in the street (unless you are actually in a country where that is the spoken language!) so what to do? The answer is a language exchange.
A language exchange is typically setup between native speakers who wish to learn the others language which means you get to talk with a real life native speaker, one-to-one and in a relaxed, informal environment. This makes a language exchange one of the best ways to learn any language.
Since in most cases both parties to a language exchange are looking to learn a new language these exchanges are typically free! You are basically getting as much private language conversation tuition as you want and all without having to pay anything, which is generally a pretty good deal.
In the process of exchanging languages you could also make new and (hopefully!) interesting friends from all sorts of exotic locations.
Language exchanges these days can be online or offline and many exchange communities exist on the internet now catering to both types.
Language exchanges online can be done using the popular internet telephony app Skype which provides voice, video, text chat and also screen sharing and so is a really great platform for a language exchange.
If you live in a university town there’s a good chance you will find many foreign students eager to improve their language skills. However when meeting new people offline always remember to take the usual safety precautions.
Meeting offline provides a wealth of opportunities for additional learning as you can incorporate the meeting locations into the learning experience, for example you could wander around a supermarket or shopping center and talk about all the different items sold there, or you could meet in more unusual locations to keep it interesting.
When you’ve found someone to do a language exchange with and arranged a mutually suitable time, always make sure to do some preparation before actually meeting so you maximize the time for learning. You may also want to agree on set time slots where you take it in turns to focus on one language and then the other to ensure both exchange partners get a fair deal.
Language exchanges can be great fun and hugely rewarding all the while helping you to rapidly attain fluency and you dont need to wait until you are already quite advanced before you start – you can start right now, there’s no good reason to waste any more time. Also don’t restrict yourself to a single exchange partner – the more the merrier!