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Whenever we go on a language exchange session with a language partner, we wonder what he/she will be like (if he/she’s a new partner), if you two will get on well, if you’ll have enough things to talk about, if the language exchange session will run smoothly, if you’ll make too many mistakes for your partner to understand you, etc. Most of these problems are either completely irrelevant or unforeseeable. However, there is something that most language exchange partners seem to forget to consider, and that is what to take to a language exchange session. We tend to see a language exchange session as something that will boost our language learning immediately and without our having to worry about anything. But hey! Rome was not built in a day, was it? The same happens with language learning, it takes time, dedication and language learning tools! So in this post, I will talk about some objects (a.k.a “tools”) you should take to a language exchange session to ensure that you make the most of it. Let’s begin.
1. Pen & Paper
This one might seem obvious (or at least it should be!), but believe you me, not everyone does it. When you’re consciously learning a language, you need to write down things, take down notes. These may be words, phrases, tips, websites or mobile apps. Heck! You can even draw things to help you remember some of the things you’ve learnt throughout your language exchange session.
I mean, how else will you get to revise at home what you’ve learnt? Pen and paper can be replaced with a tablet or even a laptop. However, these might be a little inconvenient if you’re holding your exchange in a café, where your electronic device might be dangerously surrounded by all sorts of liquids. So if you’re afraid of this or if you’re simply more comfortable with old-school tools, go ahead and get a nice notebook and pen to take with you to the language exchange session.
2. Bilingual Dictionary
“Sorry, what? What did you say? Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”
It may happen, during language exchange, that a word or expression crops up which you simply don’t know or whose meaning is particularly special or difficult to understand. In these situations, a bilingual dictionary will help us out, providing a good equivalent in our own language. Nowadays, rather than carrying a bulky dictionary in your handbag or backpack, it is much better to download a reliable translator app. I personally love WordReference (both the app and the website), as it provides you with all the possible translations of one word, depending on the context in which you’ve heard it. So download this app right now and make sure you use it during your language exchange session.
3. Voice recorder
So you’re home and have some time to kill. You get your notebook (tip 1!) to revise the notes you took during your language exchange session and bam! You see this: “carrera universitaria” (provided you’re learning Spanish!). And you start repeating out loud “ca(r)e(r)a iuniViersiTia(r)ia”. Something is odd… something SOUNDS odd, until you realise it’s you messing up the pronunciation (no offence!). So how can you prevent this from happening? Well, easy! Take a voice recorder to your language exchange session. Okay, not everybody is a cool journalist with a voice recorder in their pocket, right? Nope, but you do have a smartphone, don’t you? Use it to record your partner’s pronunciation (with his/her permission!). So you can say, “do you mind saying that again so I can record it?” That way, you’ll be able to practise it again and again when you’re at home, revising.
4. Topic cards
If there’s something you should avoid during a language exchange session, that is awkward silences! Yeah, you know, when you and your language partner are simply staring at your hands or coffee, without knowing what the hell to talk about… Well, how can you tackle this tiny problem? Prepare your language exchange session beforehand! There are many things you can do, but a very simple thing to do in order to avoid awkward silences is to take question or topic cards with you. There are many you can download from the internet or, even better, you can create your own. For instance, imagine you want to work on your vocabulary about the natural environment. In that case, you can prepare a series of questions about it, like “Are there floods in your city every year?” or “Do you ever have acid rain where you come from?”. That way, you’ll get to practise that which you are interested in and you’ll make sure you don’t come across any horrible awkward silences.
5. Time-controlling device
Remember that a language exchange session is time that you have to share with your language partner. Don’t go ahead and think that you’re the only one there to learn a language; your partner also has the right! Or, if you think your partner is being a little selfish, taking advantage of your time, make sure you let him/her know before it’s too late and the language exchange is over!
The best way to avoid this is to set times for you two (or the group) to switch languages. For instance, during a 60-minute session, you might want to split it into 30/30, so you get a full half in each language, or you could switch languages every 15 minutes if you prefer. It’s completely up to you, but in any case, you need a time-controlling device, such as a watch or the clock on your phone. You could even use a stopwatch app.
Also, make sure you establish a timetable with your partner at the beginning of the session. By doing so, you make sure it’s not uncomfortable to let your partner know that their target language time is up!
Make sure you don’t forget any of these objects when you arrange a language exchange session with someone. I can assure you that they will truly make a difference to your experience and to your language learning process in general.
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