Language exchange actively goes by many different terms— conversation exchange, intercambio, tandem. Regardless of which term you might be familiar with, they all have the same definition:
“Language exchange is a method of language learning based on mutual language practicing by learning partners who are speakers of different languages. This is usually done by two native speakers teaching each other their native language.” — Wikipedia
In other words, language exchange is the process of joining forces with someone, known as your language exchange partner, who is ideally a native speaker of the language you want to learn. Through a two-way process of direct communication and conversation, both learners are given the opportunity to improve their target language skills and proficiency while simultaneously fostering intercultural competence.
There are two main ways in which language exchange can be carried out— face-to-face and online:
This is where both partners meet in person and perform a language exchange. Time should be equally divided between speaking the two languages so that the learning is fairly distributed. Some may decide to dedicate the first half of a session to one language before switching to the other one. Others prefer to speak one language per meeting. The structure of the language exchange depends on the two participants.
Having this social element means that the participants become fully immersed in the target language and its culture. This method particularly focuses on listening comprehension and speaking skills.
Digital communication has made it possible to participate in language exchange with people all over the world. Also known as etandem, there are numerous platforms available to facilitate this, from email to websites and mobile applications. As with face-to-face language exchange, time should be equally divided between the two languages.
Depending on the medium, this method can improve all four aspects of language learning— listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Here are some pros and cons of using language exchange as a language learning method.
There is no better way to immerse yourself in your target language than practicing speaking with a native speaker.
Improvement in language proficiency:
The most effective way to learn a language is through immersion. There is no better way to immerse yourself in your target language than practicing speaking with a native speaker. Language exchange solidifies what you have learned in the classroom while also offering real-world exposure to the vernacular language and colloquial expressions.
It offers a much richer experience of learning a language while also maintaining a supportive and productive environment where there is patience and time for understanding.
Development of intercultural competence:
Cultural identity is marked by language, meaning language and culture are inherently intertwined. Not only is language exchange concerned with language acquisition, but equally with cultural understanding and knowledge. Through open communication, you are given an incredible insight into the customs, traditions, beliefs, and behavior of a society.
Speaking the language you are learning is a daunting challenge for many. The main reason for this is the fear of making mistakes. However, mistakes are a natural and integral part of language acquisition. Having a language exchange forces you to leave your comfort zone and speak the language, which with time, helps build your confidence with the language.
Need to have at least a conversational level:
In order to participate in a language exchange, you must be at that stage of your language learning journey where you can hold a conversation. Language exchange is, therefore, not a substitute for formal language education and needs to be used in combination with other tools and resources.
Finding the right language exchange partner:
To have a successful language exchange, it’s important to find the right language exchange partner for you. This makes the learning element of the exchange a lot more fun and a lot less arduous. This may take some time and effort, however, well worth the investment as you can not only gain a language exchange partner but a lifelong friend in the process.
To discover more potentials and pitfalls of language exchange, check out this talk by our CPO and co-founder, Tobias Dickmeis.
The Tandem Language Exchange app connects language learners with native speakers all over the world for free. We are a dedicated language learning community where Tandem members can find like-minded language exchange partners. Practice speaking 180+ languages, including 12 sign languages, by chatting via text, audio messages, and video calling.
Our core value is to unite people across borders through language learning. Languages hold great power for unity, inclusivity, and equality. The community welcomes members from across the globe to practice languages for free.
Tandem Language Exchange is supported by Tandem Fundazioa, the organization that developed the tandem language learning method.
There are many online language exchange platforms out there, why choose Tandem Language Exchange?
1. Human moderated community:
We have a dedicated team of moderators working around the clock to keep the Tandem community safe, fun, and relevant for language learners everywhere. We have also given ourselves three guiding community principles to which we agree upon entering the Tandem community.
2. Language learning features:
The Tandem app has built-in intuitive language tools for translation, pronunciation, transliteration, and corrections to make conversations run smoothly and for your learning to remain uninterrupted.
3. Finding a conversation partner made easy:
With millions of members, we are the largest community for language exchange, so you are sure to find a language exchange partner who matches your language learning goals. Supporting 180+ languages, including 12 sign languages, this potentially results in more than 11,000 language combinations available on the app.
4. Tandem your way:
Having the opportunity to speak to your Tandem partner via text, voice notes, audio, and video calls means your communication preferences are covered. If you need more learning support, upgrade to Tandem Pro to unlock the ultimate language learning tools.
5. Tandem Tutors:
With Tandem Tutors, you can master your new language even quicker. Our Tutors are certified professionals who offer one-on-one lessons anytime, anywhere. All of our Tutors are handpicked by us for their professionalism, knowledge, and fun factor.
Private lessons with Tandem Tutors makes it easy to find someone who matches your style of learning and works around your schedule.