Online language exchanges

If you want to practice your speaking and listening skills in a foreign language, you may be interested in a language exchange with a native speaker and English learner, in addition to meeting with the drop-in and individual tutors available at Reed. During the exchange, you speak with your language partner for about half an hour in English to help them with their spoken English skills and then for half an hour in their native language to help you. Language exchanges can be especially useful if you’re studying or practicing a language not currently offered at Reed or not supported by Reed tutors (Arabic and Japanese, for instance). There are several websites that help language learners meet for a language exchange.

Many websites that provide online language lessons, such as Rosetta Stone’s Livemocha and busuu, also offer social networking tools that can help you connect with language partners. busuu in particular has a large number of users, so you’re likely to find someone who’s interested in a language exchange. Using Livemocha or busuu to find a language partner is easiest if you’re already using the website to learn a language, and so these websites might be a good starting point if you’d like to learn a language not offered at Reed.

If you’re taking a language class at Reed that you’d like to supplement with a language exchange, you may want to use a website dedicated solely to matching up potential language partners, such as the Mixxer or italki. The Mixxer was created for Dickinson College and has been used in their language programs. It provides basic social networking tools, such as chat and messaging systems, but users must set up their own video calls for language exchange via Skype or another app. The Mixxer also offers instructor accounts for using language exchanges in the classroom and for managing student language exchanges as part of a course, and it is therefore a good choice for a professor who wants to integrate language exchange into a class.

italki provides both free and paid options. Language exchanges with other language learners are free, while you can also find tutors and certified language instructors who offer language instruction for a by-the-hour fee. Although there are many benefits to a free language exchange (not least the price!), if you find it difficult to devote time to helping your partner learn English, working with a paid online tutor might be right for you. italki is a safe way to find a paid tutor, as you pay with virtual currency purchased through italki and payment is made only upon the satisfactory completion of a lesson. italki also provides a meeting scheduler, which cuts down on confusion over time differences.

If you decide a language exchange might be right for you, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Invest the time it takes to connect with partners on whatever website you choose. Be proactive in making connections, and try out more than one website, as user populations vary.
  • Look for a native speaker of your target language who seems motivated to learn English as well, as it will keep you both invested in the exchange. It’s often easier for people learning Spanish (particularly using the Mixxer) and Chinese (particularly using busuu or italki) to find a language partner, as there tend to be a number of native speakers of those languages on these websites.
  • Try out conversations with several potential language partners before you settle on one (or a couple) with whom to talk regularly. Make sure your interests, learning styles, and levels of dedication are similar.
  • Hold yourself and your partner accountable for scheduled meetings. Because language exchange is informal, it’s easy to let a lot of time go by between conversations, but it’s important to practice speaking your target language as often as possible to get the most out of your exchange.
  • Make sure that you don’t dominate the English language part of the conversation, or let your partner dominate the target language conversation. Also, if your partner is more proficient in English than you are in your target language, it’s easy to slip back to English in the course of a conversation.
  • Finally, be mindful of privacy concerns. Find a language partner you’re comfortable with, but consider what personal information and contact methods you’d like to share with them. If you choose to work with a paid online tutor, work through a third party, such as italki, and never pay your tutor directly.

In addition to these online resources, Multnomah County Library currently offers in-person language exchanges in Spanish, French, and Chinese at various branches throughout the area (the Chinese language exchange takes place at the Woodstock branch, just up the street from Reed). These are a great opportunity to get off campus and connect with the local community of native speakers.

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