What Is Language Exchange?

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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 12 December 2019
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Language exchange is a specific approach to tandem language learning that involves at least two native speakers of different languages, each of whom wants to become proficient in the other person's language. This type of language immersion is often considered an effective approach to traditional classroom learning because it offers more opportunities to practice real conversations rather than rote book exercises. It also affords chances for communicative language teaching, as each participant acts as both a teacher and a learner. A traditional language exchange usually involves time spent in a different country and daily interaction with native speakers. Community language learning also has a significant online presence in which participants can practice via email, chat rooms, message boards, and video conferencing.

Learning a second language through a language exchange involves regular spoken practice with one to three native speakers. Some language exchange groups are limited to two partners, while others can include up to four people. One distinct advantage to this approach is immediate feedback about possible areas for improvement in pronunciation and word choice. This type of feedback is not always available in classrooms with larger numbers of students and only one instructor, so many learners find that the small group atmosphere helps them gain language comprehension at a better rate.


Prospective second language learners considering an online learning community often have plenty of options. Many virtual language exchanges require a basic sign-up at little or no cost. New members often create profiles with information such as the language they hope to learn, the native language they are able to teach to non-native speakers, and their geographic location. This information is then used to match up appropriate exchange partners. Some of these online communities have formal practice schedules, while others are generally self-paced.

One consideration for arranging online language practice sessions is the difference in time zones for participants who are logging on from geographically distant countries. Some language exchange site administrators factor in these differences when matching up participants, though others leave this arrangement up to the learners themselves. This aspect of community language learning is generally considered an advantage of a globally connected world, albeit one that requires some prior planning. Second language learners who have the most success with one of these exchanges often report that they learn a great deal about daily life in their partners' countries, and many learning groups form lasting online friendships as well.



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