What's so great about doing a language exchange via video chat? Well, you get all the benefits of a face-to-face language exchange, with the added bonus of doing it from the comfort of your home. You can also chat to people on the other side of the world really easily using video technology.
So, say you want to learn Portuguese for your trip to Brazil - video chat means you can get acquainted with Brazilian Portuguese through a local in Rio, all without leaving your sofa! However, the distance between you and your language partner, and the fact that you're communicating through technology, can raise some challenges that you wouldn't expect with a face-to-face exchange. It can be daunting when you don't know what to expect. Luckily, a little preparation goes a long away. Follow these steps and you are guaranteed to be a video exchange guru in no time!
You should arrange a time with your partner. It seems obvious, but we mention this because you need to be completely sure your partner is ready for a video chat! Perhaps they aren't as confident as you and need a little more time. It can be nice to be spontaneous once you know them better, but for your first call, it’s polite to arrange a time. Another good reason to arrange a specific time is that you can time your call so that both of you have a good opportunity to practice. 30 mins is a normal amount of time for a first call, with 15 mins on each language. One other important thing to bear in mind is which time zone your partner is in! This can even be the case for countries that don't seem very far away. It might even be a good idea to send an invite to them through your phone calendar, so you can be 100% sure you'll be online at the same time!
We've all been on Skype calls which have been disrupted by background noise. A noisy environment is not going to help you focus on language learning so make sure you and your Tandem partner are both in a quiet room without too many distractions. So essentially: don't have a video call in your kitchen while your flatmates are partying (unless you want your language partner to join in remotely with the partying…). A quiet and peaceful environment is pretty much essential for a productive video call!
Losing connection when you are in middle of an interesting conversation is the absolute worst, so avoid it by making sure you are somewhere with a good connection! You should choose a space with stable WiFi or 4G, avoiding free public WiFis which have a tendency to cut in and out. Also important is to check how well the connection is working right before the call, so you can flag any problems before you start. Don’t forget to remind your partner about this too - it only needs one dodgy connection for the whole conversation to be an epic fail.
Even if you have chatted a lot with your Tandem partner already via messaging, you may still need to think about what you want to say in your target language before making a video call. Why? Text messages leave you much more time to think, while video call doesn’t. A video call, especially when you’re not using your native language, will need you to react faster than you expect. The best way to make sure you don’t get stuck is by making your very own “cheat sheet”. Write down a few topics you’re interested in and prioritize them as you may not have the chance to talk about everything. Make sure that you also prepare some specific language questions that you want to ask native speakers, as video chat is a great opportunity for your to get the best-ever explanations of puzzling grammar rules or confusing phrases!
Time flies when you're having fun! And when two people arrange to speak from different corners of the globe, time is also very precious. To ensure you have a productive chat, it's nice to set a goal for both of you to achieve by the end. Good goals are clearly reachable, for example something like “learning 5 phrases in both Chinese and English to talk about the weather”, or just simply “learn five things about your language partner”. Having a goal keeps you on track and means you’ll finish the exchange with a real sense of achievement.
Have a pen and paper to hand so you can write down anything useful you learn. Taking note of new expressions that your partner used or taught you during the call can be very helpful for your speaking skills as you will get the chance to learn some frequently used phrases in a completely natural context. Also be sure to mark down the answers if you've prepared any questions beforehand. It can be hard to remember everything that your partner said afterwards, but taking notes is, without doubt, the best way to enhance your memory and avoid overload! Ideally, you will eventually have a “Tandem book” with everything you have learned through your video calls and chats in one place :D
Do you tend to move your hands a lot when you speak? If you don't, you might want to consider it during a video chat. Hands are amazing resources to help explain words, actions and concepts. Showing and saying what you mean is always easier to understand than simply saying. And when it comes to showing… if you have a good data internet connection on your phone, don't be afraid to show your partner a bit of your world. Something as simple as a guided tour of your house, or a walk down your street, will be fascinating to someone who lives on the other side of the globe!
Language exchanges are a really helpful form of practice, BUT your partner is not being paid to teach you - neither are they a robot. Treat each video call as a great chance to learn more about your partner and find out about their culture… hopefully you will even make friends. With more natural conversation, you may not see a marked improvement in your skills immediately, but this is OK. You will definitely improve in time! Language exchange is not purely studying so don’t take it too seriously all the time 😄