Why Language Exchange is Awesome

by Russ


I’ve mentioned a few times about my ‘study buddy’ あさこさん, she lives in Tokyo and we generally chat for about an hour each morning before I head off to work. I’ve been recently reading a lot about language exchange and surprisingly there are a lot of negative articles about it. According to most of what I’ve read, the issues include:

-Only for advanced speakers
-Tend to ‘devolve’ into just english/your native language conversation
-not useful

While there are several valid points here, I think the general consensus is that it is a waste of time unless you have 3 years experience and bring an agenda to keep the topics on track. This is ridiculous. I’ve been practicing pretty seriously for the past 2 months, and am anything but advanced. And yes, we spend a lot of time speaking in english. BUT, that is because I cannot speak in Japanese yet… duh! What do first year Japanese classes sound like? Probably mostly japanese sounds surrounded by English conversation. But the key is, whenever there is a moment that I can speak in Japanese, I take it! We may be talking about how tattoo’s are viewed in Japan, and if a revelation makes me want to say “really?” I take that opportunity to practice my ‘ほんとに‘s and when I want to ask “what is that’ I don’t waste that moment in English.

But there are other HUGE benifits that come from a language exchange partner that I have found invaluable to just starting out:

Accountable to another person

Your language partner probably (like you) doesn’t have much opportunity to speak their target language. Thus they look forward to getting to practice and refine their skills as well. All that time they are explaining the appropriate time to use ’へんだね’ in English is going to be as helpful in refining their english skills a it is to your Japanese.

‘Pop Quizes’ and making it a habit

This is the biggest thing for me. When your language partner switches temporarily to Japanese, it really gives you a chance to test what you’ve learned. And as you talk more, you both get a feel for each others level of mastery. So after a discussion with あさこさん over the use of がんばて, a few days later I received an email using that word as, coupled with other familiar words, and was over joyed that I was able to understand what she was trying to convey. So even though I may have had those thoughts of putting it off, or even worse, quitting, I was instead rejuvenated and ready to continue my studies because I had just made a very tiny bit of measurable progress!

And finally, it’s FUN!

I just have fun talking to people about Japan. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my morning meetings and have started to reach out to other would be pen-pals via email. So if you’re on the fence, and you’ve seen all these people moan-and-groan about language exchange, just ignore them and try it now! http://www.verbling.com is a great place to start. I’ve also finally ponied up the 7$ for a month at mylanguageexchange.com where you can email other non premium members and I’ve met a few new friends this week already.