Language Exchange in Your Backyard
Everyone knows that the most organic way to improve your language skills is to practice speaking it whenever possible. If you live in a homogenous area, this can become difficult, especially if you’re on a busy schedule. However, as language acquisition becomes more desirable for resumes, job marketability, and just plain enjoyment, resources for language exchange are becoming more common, if you know where to look.
If you live in a university town, colleges make the ideal setting to seek out conversation in a second language. Depending on how much time or money you want to put in, every college has continuing education programs on which you can enroll. When I was in college, I took part in an evening Russian language course that was equal parts language exchange and potluck dinner party extravaganza. While our conversational skills remained basic at best, all of us had been to Russia at least once at that point, so we were able to share plenty of stories, recipes, and travel tips. In addition to this, there are always clubs and societies for language aficionados that can offer trips and volunteer opportunities conducive to increasing your exposure to your target language. And of course, if you know where to look—generally humanities buildings, campus libraries, and information points are profitable for this—you can find all sorts of flyers advertising language exchanges with foreign students who are trying to improve their English.
In a similar vein, every hostel I’ve been through in South America so far has advertised language exchange programs, something of a cross-cultural speed-dating, located at pubs and coffee shops. These can be an excellent way of meeting people and speaking in a fun, informal way, as well as exploring new areas of a city that you may not have known about otherwise. No matter where you are, Craigslist is a very useful method of sifting through exchanges of various languages that may be in your area. The one downside of these, at least in my experience, is that oftentimes your partner may be more interested in brushing up on their English—especially if native English speakers are a rare commodity in their area—than helping you practice your target language. On the other hand, if you’re an expat homesick for your mother tongue, this can be an ideal situation.
If face-to-face conversation is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of websites, forums, and online programs that can provide you with virtual resources. Websites offers this kind of resource are rising in popularity, and they can get you in touch with language students across the globe who are eager to communicate via email, Skype, or other software applications. Generally they are free to register if you provide your nationality and language preferences, and they can set you up with online pen-pals of all sorts.
As daily life becomes more busy and hectic, it can be difficult to find time to study up on a language. Fortunately, as social interactions evolve, there are more and more alternative ways to meet people and communicate with them. Whether you look for an activity through a college, an independent exchange, or a website, you’re sure to have a unique and educational experience as you brush up on your speaking skills. And plus, it comes with the perk of making friends.
Do you have any experiences with language exchanges in your area?