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Does 50/50 language exchange really work?

I've tried to become language exchange partners with some friends here on italki but so far this exchange didn't really work as intended, that is 50/50. Most of my conversations ended up only in one language, be it the one I'm learning or the other's.

Based on your experience, how did you manage to do 50/50 language exchange? Did you really benefit from this exchange and your target language significantly improve?



Hi Marcelle. I'm exchanging with a partner to learn Mandarin each weekday evening. I have an alarm I set for half an hour. Since she knows English and I'm just still learning the Mandarin alphabet, we start in English. When the alarm goes off we switch to Mandarin. 


It's working beautifully! I am learning and her English is getting better. It's hard to be strict about it, but it is important to be strict because it really does feel good to do both languages equally and doing more than half an hour in either language feels like it's just too long. I know little and she knows a lot, but the exchange is still perfectly fair. 50/50 is about time spent with each language so it works even if one person is advance and the other a beginner. 


I highly suggest a plain old manual kitchen timer. Works like a charm. :D


I really agree with Dorothy's comment, a language exchange should be treated as a learning opportunity, and not as two friends chatting. Far too often teachers hear stories from students that their language partnerships aren't working, and time and again when we ask why, we get the same response; that the exchange isn't 50/50. A timer is the fairest way to ensure that both partners have the chance to speak the language they want to learn.


Language exchanges can be a little tricky until you get the hang of them. I’ve done a few 50/50 language exchanges over the past month, and I am very pleased with how they are going. Everyone that I’ve talked to has been willing to talk one language for about 10 minutes then switch to the other language. They are also all very interesting people.

The thing about learning to speak another language is that you have to be ok with going out of your comfort zone. If you are a natural shy person, you have to become comfortable asking or suggesting to your partner that you switch to the other language for a while. As in any other type of interaction with people, there are many ways to direct a conversation. On occasion, when I want to switch the conversation back to Spanish, I’ll just start talking in Spanish and my partner usually follows. My language partners usually employ the same technique with me, and I’ll switch back to talking in English. Keep in mind that this is usually only done when the conversation language begins to tilt heavily in one direction.

My Spanish speaking abilities have definitely improved since I started doing language exchanges. At times, I think back on conversations that I’ve had and can’t remember whether or not the topics we discussed were in English or in Spanish.

i don not  know,it depended the time whether you both free,btw,i want to improve english speaking,if anyone want to learn cantonese and mandarin ,please skype me :lonelyplanettzw


It sounds as if it was more a case of good intentions than anything else. As other members have touched on, I think you and your partner need to agree on definite rules.  It's too tempting to opt for the easiest way and resort to one language. This can become a standard (eg. "Oh, its easier if Marcelle and I only speak in Indonesian, so we'll just do that."), so if it's becoming too one-sided, push! (Or pull!)


Admittedly, it is simpler to find people who don't speak your languages and aren't very interested in learning them, so at least you are forced to use their language. Very one-sided I know, so maybe a few of these kinds of contacts, plus the "50-50" partners, will balance out your language learning (and helping).



Thank you all for the input.


Hi, Dorothy. I think your idea about kitchen timer is superb. It didn't occur to me how timer could be effective for exchanging languages. 


It's true what Andi and Peachey said that the only way to improve from language exchange is to actually use it as an opportunity to learn. I'm aware that what I've done wrong is treating this exchange as a chance to chat instead of to learn. I've met many interesting people on this web. It's nice to chat with them that the intention to learn foreign languages is kind of forgotten. 


However this leads to another question. When looking for language partners, is it only the language that matters? Is it necessary to consider other factors such as age, same interests, etc? Because if it's just to get you to talk then the only thing you need is anybody who is willing to exchange. While if you found a nice friend with whom you can talk to, you'll spend most of your time only chatting.

Hi, Marcelle


I guess I can conceive what you are concerned about. I am convinced the most important factor to find a comparable, favorable language partner is both of you share a similar goal to leanguage learning. It does not matter with his/her gender, job,age, interests, or anything.

Yes, allen. It is ideally so. But in order to keep a conversation going, it's necessary to have something in common to talk about.


I would like to find a partner so to as keep a conversation. I haven`t find him/her yet. I think that it`s crucial speaking every day and it`s better if she/he is native speaker person.


I believe language is about 'doing' something, not just talking. So after the basic Bonjours, Holas and Hellos, we read to each other in our target language using bilingual web sites.


If you think in terms of 'what are we going to do today', and not, 'what are we going to talk about today' - the 'doing' possiblities become endless.



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