Saturday, November 19, 2016
Improving your speaking requires practice, and one of the best ways to do that is with a language exchange partner. A language exchange is when two people from different countries get together to practice each other’s language. So, for example, if you live in Newcastle and want to practise your English, you need to find an English person that wants to practise speaking your language. The idea is that the two of you would meet up, maybe once a week, and spend 30 minutes or so speaking English and 30 minutes speaking your language. You could get together at a coffee shop, a local library and even, when you get to know each other better, each other’s houses.
Language exchanges have a number of things going for them. The obvious one is that they are free. This means that it might be possible to meet up with you partner 3 or 4 times a week. You could even have a number of different speaking partners. (Varying your partners is a good way of broadening the range of English you hear.) You will also be speaking with native speakers, so you have the potential to learn from the language they use. Are there any drawbacks? Not really. Some people argue that language exchanges are better suited to intermediate and advanced learners but I can’t see why a lower level speaker couldn’t benefit.
Sometimes it is difficult to find a speaking partner. Luckily, Newcastle is a cosmopolitan city with a large university full of English students looking to learn foreign languages so it shouldn’t be that difficult. If you are part of the university you could use the language department’s noticeboards to find a partner. If you are not part of the university, you might want to try one of the following methods:
My Language Exchange in Newcastle
This seems to be the most popular language exchange website. When I looked at it, there were over 15 people in the Newcastle area looking for partners. To create a profile, all you need to do is enter the language you speak, the language you want to learn, the type of exchange you want (mail, text, phone or face-to-face) and give a short description of yourself. If you want to use the website for free, you will have to wait for someone to contact you. Alternatively, you can pay £5.00 to become a gold member, which will allow you send emails to other members.
My Language Exchange promotes something called the Cornier Method. Instead of meeting one other person, you are encouraged to make a small group. So, for example, if it was an English – French exchange, two of the group would be native English speakers and the other two would be native French speakers. I am not sure how practical this is in reality, it might be hard to get a group together, but it is definitely an interesting idea as it would let you listen to native speakers interacting. My students often tell me that they can understand English when it is spoken directly to them, but find it much harder to understand it when it is spoken between two native speakers.
Gumtree allows you to post ads for free. Look for the Skills and Language Swap category. Each ad is left up for 30 days so you will have to repost your ad if nobody has replied to you in that time.
Gumtree might be useful if you are interested in forming a small group. Decide on a time and a place and then invite people to join you. There are a number of group language exchanges in London if you are looking for ideas on how to go about advertising one.
Open Language Exchange
This is a website that lets you post a profile and contact people for free. As with My language Exchange, you can choose to communicate online as well as face-to-face. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t seem to be very popular. Only 4 people from Newcastle have used the site this year.
Newcastle City Library’s Skills Swap Noticeboard (See photo above)
This is on level 3 of the library, next to the Business and IP Centre. If you can’t find anybody looking to practise your language, just fill in one of the cards with your details and slide it into one of the slots on the board. Blank cards can be found on the board and once a card has been put up, there is no time limit on how long it can be left for.
To find out the library’s opening hours and location go to:
How to get the most out of your language exchange in Newcastle
Materials – One of the biggest problems when doing a language exchange is running out of things to talk about. The My Language Exchange website has lesson plans that you can use. Alternatively, feel free to use our materials:
General questions (15 Topics)
Making questions using WH words
Timing – be sure to spend the same amount of time on each language. You may be tempted to spend longer on the language that you and your partner feel more comfortable with.
Preparation - In order to make the most of your meeting, I would recommend preparing. Try and find some language (vocabulary or grammar) that you would like to use. For example, if your topic of conversation is going to be the environment, read some articles about the environment, pick out some useful words and phrases, and then use those words and phrases when you meet your partner. You could have the words and phrases on a piece of paper, or better still, you could learn them beforehand.
Correcting – Let your partner know how much you would like to be corrected. If you are looking to improve fluency, I would suggest telling your partner to only correct you when you repeatedly make the same mistake or if your meaning is unclear. If you are looking to improve the accuracy of your speaking, you could ask then to be more critical.