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Why You Should Treat Language Exchange Sessions As Transactions

3 August 2021
SewaYou
Think of language exchange session as a rare chance to challenge yourself
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language-learning

More and more people are using language exchange apps to improve their language skill. There are definitely pros in using those apps, but also cons that come along. Most of people come to use those apps when they might not be ready yet to apply what they’ve learned from other methods (textbooks, YouTube videos etc…). Here, we gonna discuss how to make the most out of your language exchange sessions, and why you should treat those different exchanges as transactions.

What do I mean by transaction?

When you’re learning a language, you’re not only learning the syntax, grammar of vocabularies of that language, but also everything related to the culture of the country. I guess this should be the number one motive to make you learn that language to begin with.

So a lot of people (especially those are not living in the country of that specific language) are seeking to make friends from that country.

While this is not impossible, the process is hard and you might want to try and fail multiple times before finding the ideal partners.

But the difficulty here resides in making friends online. Just search for How to make Japanese friends online and you'll find hundreads articles explaining how, by using some exchange language apps.

Human interaction get more and more digitalized. But we can’t deny that real connections come from knowing someone offline, discussing face to face over a coffee, and get to know that person directly in person.

So, if you’re purely trying to improve your language skill and not worrying about making real connections, you better treat every interactions you have on those language exchange apps as transactions.

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Transaction here means that both sides:

  • should get real benefit from the interaction
  • get the chance to practice their learning language in almost equal time
  • should put into practice the theoretical part of their learning journey, which means, make use of the newly learned vocabularies or grammar patterns

At the end, a transaction means that there should be a win-win for both sides, and is quick and is a repeatable process.

Ultimately, if you are lucky enough to be in the country of your learning language, your goal is to get to meet up in real life and have a real chat as fast as possible. Nothing can replace an in-person language exchange session.

Still, if you can’t get to meet in-person, you still should think of all your language related interactions as transactions, where you need to encourage the counter part to apply what they’ve learned.

Get straight to the points, discuss about topics that you would do in real-life, use your own words, challenge yourself with new study points that you have just mastered.

Skip the small talks, like where are you from? or why are your learning Japanese? or how long have you been in Japan?.

Why is that? Because your counterparts have already been asked this kind of questions thousand times already.

It makes the first interaction dulls and borings. You won’t feel motivated to keep talking to that person, because she/he doesn’t bring you to explore new horizons in your learning journey.

I’ve myself used multiple language exchange apps before building my own SewaYou. And most of those interactions didn’t last long because it’s more like trying to kill time when you feel boring in your daily life, rather than really trying to actively improve your language skills.

That’s why I’ve built SewaYou to try to fill the gap and shorten the path between online, superficial interaction to offline, real-life and deeper (in terms of language complexity) conversations.

People are always looking for “what’s in it for me?”

Seriously, 90% of the first message I received on language exchange app like HelloTalk or Tandem is, can you teach me French/Japanese/English? without even trying to offer something in exchange.

As a learner, when I see that kind of message -> conversation deleted 🤷‍♂️

Why is that? We are not teachers and I hate to be an academic teacher.

I downloaded that app not to be a teacher, but doing language exchange. The word exchange implies that both sides should bring something to the table.

So don’t put the burden of academic teaching to your partner, as it will push them away.

Instead, talk with them in the way you would talk to a normal friend, and those will create interesting conversations. It is within those conversations that you will find the most benefits in term of grammar self-check, specific vocabularies usage. So basically, try to aim for efficiency and make the most out of your and your partner’s precious time.

You should have a genuine interest in your partner bio, their language level, hobbies. People are more willing to listen to you if you’re listening to them, and are willing to know more about them. When both sides are actively trying to bring value to each other, both sides will definitely benefit.

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Explicitly indicate which areas (speaking, listening, reading, writing) you want to improve can narrow down the tone and nature of the interaction.

If you ran out of topics, you can use one of the Topic of the Day that we have within SewaYou, those topics just served the purpose of refreshing discussion topics so that you can use different set of vocabularies.

A topic like "are you more a Mountain 🏔 person or a Beach 🏝 person?" might be dead simple, but you can bounce over the conversation using some specific vocabularies and sentences like climbing shoes, surfing board, the repeating sound of the sea makes me sick, I like how the broad horizon mountains calms me down etc... stuff like that, you get the idea. You agree that it's much better than the I'm learning Japanese because I like animes, do you also watch animes?, right? 🤓

Think of those interactions as a rare chance to put into practice and therefore check the correctness of something new that you’ve just learned. While you shouldn’t expect your language partners to teach you, asking them once in a while to check some mistakes that you might make is appropriate.

But at the end of the day, focusing on trying to get to meet those partners in real-life (if geographically possible). There is so much value to get out from 30 minutes of a chat while grabbing a coffee, rather than endlessly chatting online for days or weeks.

Heck, you don't even need to meet a native, a comrade learning the same language as you can be a good buddy with whom you can practice, and it will be easier to find them in your area.

Long-lasting language friends: 1 on 1 online then offline ASAP

While some language exchange like HelloTalk offers the possibility to chat within a group, that will becomes quickly overwhelming. You won’t have the whole context of a conversation that you didn’t initiate, you don’t know the people inside the group except their avatar and username.

The same applies for real-life meet up, those we call language exchange meetups that end up to be just a way to earn profits when organizing. I’ve been attended a few of them in the past, and it’s just a bunch of random people (sometime including people trying to pick up girls/foreigner hunters or people who just want to make new connections).

Of course, as a social event, it’s not bad, but it’s definitely not an efficient way to improve your language. People who talk the loudest will end up leading the conversation and talk in their own mother tongue, with no interest in trying to improve what so ever language.

My tone sounds a little bit harsh, but I’m talking to you, you who want to improve seriously your language ability. Focus on 1 on 1 offline meet up, where you gonna get challenged for real.

To increase your chance to get invited or for your invitation to be accepted, write a detailed profile, use a real profile picture, put in your hobbies and specify what area and for what purpose specifically you want to improve your learning language. People are more willing to talk with those they have something in common, those who are not afraid to hide behind a cat photo.

You won’t be able to hide behind a group, when you don’t understand something, you won’t try to camouflage it behind a fake smile. On 1 on 1, it’s up to you and only to you to prove yourself and get to understand what you’ve been asked and reply or ask clarifying questions.

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Only by encountering those different challenges that you will grow and improve drastically your language skills both for the speaking and listening part (which are the most important).

You should be aware that speaking skill = general language skill + communication soft skill 💬

This soft skill includes your ability to actively listen to your counterpart before asking questions.

A bit extreme approach, but you can even think of those interactions/sessions as interview sessions where you get to show your skills and try to be part of the conversation as much as possible.

Learn to be empathetic toward your counterpart. Your language skill level might be different, try to talk slowly when you see that you partner can’t catch up with the conversation flow. This little things can only be learned by having a real and meaningful 1on1 conversation exchange.

Conclusion

  • treat an online language exchange session as a rare chance where you can really challenge yourself, and put into practice what you’ve just learned
  • be genuinely interested in your language partner, and do not ask them to teach you X
  • when both sides try to bring value to each other, everyone wins
  • get ASAP to an offline language exchange session when geographically possible
  • avoid for now superficial group discussion and focus on 1on1 interactions where you have no choice but to keep the conversation flow going

To avoid endless online interactions and trying to find your ideal partner by going through hundreds of different profiles, I've built SewaYou. It’s an app whose only goal is to get people in the same area to meet up to practice their language speaking skill.

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You get to see directly language partners in your area on an interactive map, and see the distance and time that separate you from your language partner so that offline meet up can be arranged faster! ⏱

Give it a try 😃


Philippe Khin
Written by
Philippe Khin
Founder of SewaYou 💬 Born in Cambodia, grew up in France, now Permanent Resident in Japan When I don't write code for SewaYou, I write these articles 🧑‍💻

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