Dear friends learning foreign languages,
italki gives us the opportunity of linking together in "language partner connections". I am curious about your personal experiences here in italki, what your expectations were at the beginning, how these expectations were met and how you would judge that such a partner connection is "successful" (also a subject for personal interpretation).
Best greetings from Germany,
P.S. Of course, this is valid for all combinations of languages, but I posted this under "English" as I supposed English to be the language studied by the highest number of students. :)
For me, having language partners on italki has been extremely helpful as well as being a pleasure. It was especially helpful for me to read a chapter in the book The Telenovela Method that had a chapter in it about using language exchanges for learning languages before I ever tried a language exchange. The author spent a year spending many hours in language exchanges on various sites and made recommendations about what kinds of things make them more useful. For example, he suggested having sites and resources to use during the exchanges. I may have just been lucky to receive invitations from very good partners to start off, but I was prepared with many ideas about how we might help each other and what we might do before I had my first exchange. I still have the first three partners that began with me several months back. I pay teachers and tutors as well, but I think my time spent with my regular language partners has been as helpful as the time I have paid tutors for. Attempting to help my partners with my native language has made me aware of things I would not have been aware of before.
I use online resources for learning the grammar of my target language, I read a lot of books in my target language, and I watch a lot of videos in my target language. I use my teachers and language partners for much needed experience and practice in actually speaking the language with someone. They know I want them to correct my errors, help me speak more clearly, and pronounce things better. My partners and I use texts, comics, and sites like Google Arts and Culture to have things to focus on instead of only talk about our daily lives. I think that is one of the secrets. I do not think partnerships last very well if people are simply having repeated conversations.
My personal experiences are the following: I have now 278 friends but almost no contact to them. With few of them I had quite intensive contact for even up to some years, but eventually we stopped exchanging. The exchange in almost all cases was writing letters via italki, e-mail or some chat systems like Wechat and kakaotalk.
It is nice to exchange about cultures and hobbies. This teaches words. Words are important. But everything is about effort and discipline. The temptation of using the easier English instead of the more difficult language that I still want to learn is strong. Also, in most cases I did not make clear to my exchange partners, what my intention or target was. We just chatted more or less aimlessly. I actually did enjoy this quite a lot, but I did not make too big progress in the languages I wanted to learn.
I guess, following points could contribute to success in language exchange:
1) State to each other what the intention or target is, on the way to which the language partner can help.
2) Maybe even define stopover targets on the way, in order to control the progress.
3) Let each other do exercises
4) Give each other a lot of advice and corrections
5) Use the language that I want to learn.
Anything to add?
One thing I would suggest as a critical skill for lasting, productive speaking exchanges is learning how to share your screen with your partner on Skype. When you share a screen, almost any website, text, or picture can be used as a topic to study together to increase your vocabulary or work on your pronunciation/accent. In some cases, it is easier to give your partner the website address, but many times knowing that you are looking at the same thing at the same time makes a big difference in how it is discussed.
I find it difficult to stop and correct pronunciation or small grammatical errors when we are just talking- it goes against deeply ingrained habits about not being rude. However, when I know that my partner wants me to provide a lot of feedback or to help them pronounce words more like a native speaker, and we are reading a comic one frame at a time or reading a text one sentence at a time, then I can do it much more effectively.
Here is another thread where I went into more detail about some of the techniques I have found helpful for language exchange.
Many of my ideas came from ¨The Telenovela Method¨, but my first partner taught me how to share my screen and taught me the technique of reading an English text a line at a time to help him with his pronunciation, and then going back and me trying to translate the text into Spanish with his help. In this way, partners at different levels in the language can have a focus to work on that builds the vocabularly and speaking ability of both.
I never expected I would be able to find a language partner at all and I never actively looked for one. I joined italki primarily to take lessons. But I was able to find a couple of really good language partners. They are reliable and we talk regularly. However, I still suffer from not knowing what is best to do or what to talk about during the language exchange.
Also, when I joined I had an idea that I could practice by talking to other learners who are at my own level, but it quickly proved ineffective.