The advancement of technology and communication tools now enables language learners to connect with native speakers around the world for a conversation exchange.
One method of practicing is a concept known as language exchange or conversation exchange.
There has been a lot of debates online of whether this specific style of learning is effective or not. In this complete guide to conversation exchange, I’m going to share a complete analysis (good and bad), so you can make the most informed decision.
The Pros of Conversation Exchange
a. You can meet new people
If the idea of discovering new cultures, and interacting with people you wouldn’t normally have a chance to speak with sparks your excitement, then conversation exchange is a great place to start.
With conversation exchanges, it’s easy to start a conversation with more than one person from different countries around the world. For example: if you’re looking to learn how to speak Spanish, you can message someone from Barcelona, Spain, Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Bogota, Colombia, and have your pick of the pie.
Once you connect with your native speaker, the two of you will be able to learn about each other’s lifestyles, cultures, and share what it’s like to live in your current countries.
b. Improve by speaking
There’s two parts for this section because conversation exchange platforms normally offer a “penpal” option, where you can practice through text, and a second version where you can interact with someone over the phone or video chat.
Depending on whether you’re looking to improve your communication skills or writing skills, you can decide which one fits your style.
As we have written in our previous post, the fastest way to learn and improve is to speak directly with a native person, and that requires getting out of your comfort zone initially. We have found that when most people get over the initial stages of speaking with someone new, it becomes much more natural and it’s easy to build a relationship over time.
c. It’s free (most of the time)
This is the reason most people are attracted to conversation exchanges.
There’s no cost to entry, and for people that have time and patience, this could be an avenue that makes sense, especially if you’re strapped financially and unable to invest in a professional service.
However, as the popular saying goes: “you get what you pay for.”
And with that said…
The Cons of Conversation Exchange
a. Basic conversation level required
In order to participate in a conversation exchange, you should have a basic proficency of conversation skills. Unfortunately, not everyone is as patient as we would like them to be, and it’s very likely that the exchange will not last long, when it’s not benefiting either party.
From my experience, as I was trying to learn Spanish, I’ve found that there are many native Spanish speakers, but very few of them knew enough English to provide me explanations or corrections of my mistakes. On the other hand, I have had cases where I would connect with another English speaker trying to learn Spanish. In this case, the other party could be more understanding but you’re still not getting the real experience of learning from a native speaker.
Once you have taken 6-8 weeks of classes or private language lessons, where you have a solid foundation of grammar structure and rules, you should be ready to go out into the world of conversation.
b. Difficulty finding the right partner
The point of doing a conversation exchange is so you can build a relationship and continue practicing in the long-term. Due to the cultural differences of how you’re connecting for a conversation exchange, there’s a good chance your partner may not be a good match for you. It may involve constant switching of conversation exchange partners before you find one that you are comfortable with.
With that said, some conversation exchanges out have filtering to share your interests. Overall, my experiences have been quite unsatisfactory.
c. Requires time and patience
Yes! It is a conversation exchange. This means you have to dedicate half of your time giving back and helping your partner with his or her conversation skills. Essentially, a conversation exchange requires each participant to become a teacher in order to get involved.
Most busy people may find a conversation exchange difficult to arrange, coordinate, and dedicate half the time teaching. In cases where your conversation partner is in a very different time zone, this can be particularly complicated to coordinate.
d. Lack of motivation and accountability
Just like going to the gym, starting a new business, or learning a skill, we need accountability to sustain our efforts and make progress. In the case of conversation exchanges, the difficulties of scheduling, required patience, and time it takes to find the right partner, many people lose the motivation to continue practicing.
Unless you’re incredibly self-motivated, it’s likely that your efforts and commitment will slowly begin to diminish. It’s best to have an end-goal in mind that is going to motivate yourself, such as a foreign country you will be visiting soon, a job you will be entering soon, or a recent relationship you’ve formed.
If you’re looking for faster, effective results, it’s always better to invest in your education.
People who achieve the greatest results in their health are usually the ones with a personal trainer. The entrepreneurs that succeed have a mentor or business coach to help them win in business. Language learners who ultimately reach fluency will be those who seeked out professional help.
This is why at Rype, we have taken the benefits from both the conversation exchange and professional tutoring lessons. You receive a social, informative, and personalized experience with our vetted teachers, and get professional accountability.
In Summary: The Pros and Cons of Conversation Exchange
Pros of conversation exchange
- Easy to meet new people
- Can learn about new cultures and lifestyles
- Improve your speaking skills
- Learn by doing
- Free or very cheap
- No cost to speak with native speaker
- Good for hobbyists
Cons of conversation exchange
- “you get what you pay for”
- Basic level of conversation skill required
- Difficult to find partners that have patience if you aren’t already somewhat proficient
- Finding the right partner is difficult
- Personality mismatch, lack of similar interests
- Timezone differences
- Requires time and patience
- Half practicing, half teaching partner
- Not a good choice for busy people
- Lack of motivation and accountability
- Difficult to maintain on-going practice and relationship with partner
- Better to invest in a professional if you want fast, tangible results
There’s no right or wrong answer to decide which is ultimately better. It depends on your personal goals, what your motivation is, and what timeframe you have to learn.
If learning a language is more of a hobby, a conversation exchange may be a better option for you.
If you’re serious about getting results, I would encourage you to invest in a solution that provides these 3 pillars: real-life interaction, proven method, and accountability.
Rule of thumb
If you’re just beginning to learn a new language, it’s usually best to work with a private tutor. This allows you to go through an intensive 4-8 weeks of learning the basic rules, grammar, and structure.
From there, you can continue practicing with native speakers and receive immediate feedback on a consistent basis.
Follow these rules, and you’ll reach fluency in no time!
Best of luck on your journey. I’d love to know what your thoughts are on using a conversation exchange to learn a language!
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