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?

Aug 7, 2014 6:34 AM
Comments · 16

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

August 7, 2014

Of course every relationship and person is going to be different. For me, I need the tool. What people have told me about their experiences here is that when the other person doesn't allow enough equal time for them, the unhappy person will not say how unhappy they are. Some people like to assume that everyone enjoys their personality and company so much that they must want to talk to them even if the other person doesn't get a chance to practice. I don't usually go around telling someone that they are being selfish and self-centered and neither do most people. Instead, I just stay unhappy and not willing to be impolite until it gets to the point where I just try to escape without hurting the other person's feelings too much. I can be a bit of a push over so I have to work at making sure I create good boundaries. I really need the timer. It makes all the difference for me. I hope that it works as well for you as it has for me!

August 8, 2014

Marcelle, I don't think that liking someone and chatting about things you have in common is mutally exclusive to doing that half the time in one language and then half the time in the other! Making friends and wanting to talk is very motivating. If you are at the same level of language, then when the timer goes off you can seamlessly switch to the other language to continue the same friendly conversation. 


If you feel like you are often getting the short end of the stick (not getting as much out of the relationship as the other person) then better boundaris are necessary. You're not happy so something has to change. Having a timer make a loud sound is easier for me than interrupting someone. I get shy about asking for my share of things sometimes. The timer also stops me from looking at the clock and having to think about the time or worry about whether I'm going to get to practice. The boundaries are so clear that we can stop thinking about time and balance and can concentrate on what we are doing or talking about instead. 

to be continued...

August 8, 2014

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.

August 7, 2014

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.

August 8, 2014
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