We need to make friends in order to learn
This topic is near to my heart – language exchange, also known as tandem language learning. After years of studying, many people fail to become comfortable in a new language. This is because we are thinking about learning in a backwards way: that if we learn a language, we will be able to make friends. The truth is that we need to make friends in order to learn. Language exchange is a clever way to short circuit this paradox.
How a language exchange works
You sit down with a person who wants to learn your language and who speaks a language you want to learn. You spend half the time working on each one. Some partners just hang out and chat the whole time. Other prepare questions in advance and stick to those questions. Others read newspapers or articles, or go on urban adventures together.
My own story
In 2007, I met my first language partner. At a café in Montreal each week, he helped me learn Turkish and I helped him learn English. In the past, I had studied languages. But this was the first time to truly speak a new language. My world became wider. Since then I have improved my French, Spanish, Turkish, and Arabic using language exchanges.
I wanted to help other people have similar experiences. After a couple of failed attempts to start lasting language exchange programs in Saudi Arabia and the Galapagos, in 2011, I created the UBC Tandem Language Learning Program for UBC students, faculty, and staff. I’m happy to say that this program continues to be successful with more than 600 matched partners just this term.
Mary’s Language Exchange – a service for Vancouver
In February 2013 I created Mary’s Language Exchange for anyone in Vancouver. Since then, dozens of partners have been matched for English-Mandarin, Italian-French, German-Spanish, English-Portuguese, and other combinations.
Registration if free, and only when you find a good partner–who matches you in language, location, and time availability–do you pay the $60 Match and Resources Fee. You can find a partner through other channels, including Facebook, Craigslist, or a community centre cork board, but this service comes with advantages: both partners are committed to a minimum of 6 meetings, you have a set of materials to use, and you can ask for advice along the way. In the future, hopefully the system will be even better.
In my next post, I’ll list some tips for success in a language exchange. In the meantime, think about your language goals. Would having a dedicated partner help?