When you want to start interacting with native speakers and practicing conversational skills, you’ll want to know all about the LCE experience. Far from the classroom with its recorded listening tapes and prompted conversations with other beginners, an LCE, or language conversation exchange, gets you speaking like a native faster through pure immersion.
To do an LCE, you will meet with a native speaker of your target language and converse with them, alternating between your language and theirs. You exchange your knowledge of English (or another language you know well) for their knowledge of the foreign language you’re learning. It gives you experience of real, one-on-one communication, a chance to converse and listen. This is vital to helping you learn quicker, better and with more enjoyment.
Sounds pretty great, right? An opportunity like this must rapidly accelerate everybody’s language learning, right? Sadly not. LCEs often fail or fade out, and their magic potential for language transformation is lost.
Luckily for you, I am going to spell out how to find, create and maintain an LCE that explodes your language learning as you know it and catapults you into a new level of fluency. And you might even make a friend along the way!
Everything You Need to Know About Language Conversation Exchanges
Why Should I Do a Language Conversation Exchange?
Before you start scouting for a buddy, it is vital that you know what you want this exchange to do for you. Do you want a structured and challenging test of your linguistic abilities? A mate to hang out and relax with? What is most important to you?
People have all sorts of reasons for seeking out an LCE, from pure love of language to understanding a new culture, finding a new friend in an unfamiliar place or having someone to reassure them that they are doing fine when they order drinks in a funny accent.
If you know what you want to get out of your LCE, you are more likely to find it. You won’t waste time with vague feelings that this isn’t really what I was after. No time for that! You have a language to master!
Sit down for five minutes and brainstorm why you might be looking for an LCE. Then choose the three main points—all related to what you want to achieve and experience. Make a note of them and refer back throughout your LCE to see if you are getting what you originally wanted.
Know what you’re looking for? Great! Let’s go get it!
How Can I Find My Language Conversation Exchange Buddy?
I personally recommend Hellotalk to find a buddy in your target language. It is free, you are linked up instantly and you can keep searching until you find your perfect buddy. This works as a good introduction service. Later you can decide if you want to just text or maybe progress to Skype chat or beyond.
Skype isn’t necessarily the end goal—it’s actually a fantastic place to start! Check out Skype’s community message boards for people looking for a partner. Skype language lessons attract speakers of all languages and you can find many offers for languages exchanges there.
Couchsurfing also has a great community forum you can log into and post on for buddies. Here you can find kindred spirits who enjoy travel and adventuring.
These are my personal favorites. Check out the links above and see what works for you—and don’t be afraid to get out there and explore more options!
As for those of you lucky enough to actually be living abroad, it is even easier to find a buddy. Utilize centers of education—universities, schools, cultural centers. Leave an advert and a contact number there. Many universities offer a “Tandem” or language exchange service. Contact local TEFL teachers, too—they can give you contacts to their best and keenest students.
Being the foreigner in your town, many people would welcome the opportunity to learn with you. Ask your friends, ask your colleagues. Somewhere out there is your perfect LCE party waiting eagerly to set out on a language adventure by your side.
How Do I Recognize My Ideal LCE Partner?
Be discerning at the start. The better suited you two are for one another, the better your chances of having a successful LCE. Gut feeling is a good indicator. Is this person interesting to you? Do they have a similar personality and lifestyle? Would you choose to chat with them normally?
Then there is level. It is not necessary to have someone the same as you in ability and fluency. Even a total beginner and a near fluent speaker can help each other wonderfully as long as both are fulfilled and getting what they want.
Next, find out what your potential buddy wants from this exchange. Can you help them? Do they seem interested in helping you?
Be flexible at the beginning. The relationship will take its own shape. That said, it is good to set some starting rules:
How often will we meet? At least once a week is best to keep things progressing nicely, but the more you meet up the better your speaking skills will become. Do not try to overwhelm your buddy with too many meet ups if they have a busy schedule, but be sure that you express your goals in terms of frequency.
How will we divide the languages? The most common format is to speak for half the time in your language, half the time in theirs. But it is up to you and your partner. You could alternate weeks or come up with your own system. Bear in mind though that extended language immersion will deepen your skills, so try not to flit between languages too quickly and too often.
If you are in an online LCE, you have the advantage of at least some written communication. That means you can post a short summary of the guidelines of your desired LCE to your buddy. Feel free to keep in touch via online messaging in between your meet ups.
Where will we meet? If you have a physical meeting, then vary the location. This makes each session unique with its own set of challenges and learning opportunities. Go to a museum or a park. Meet at your house or at your buddy’s. Not only will you be more stimulated by each meeting thanks to the varying scenery and topics of conversation, you will come across new vocabulary and challenges too.
If you are meeting online, there is no reason not to explore cyberspace together! Play games, have fun. Sometimes you can Skype for talking practice. Sometimes you can text chat so that your buddy can give you writing tips. Try different chat rooms and experiment with different conversation sites. Maybe you can even go on a SIMS adventure together!
The Time Has Come—What Should We Talk About?
Try to keep the topics of discussion diverse. At the start, you can focus on getting to know each other, but your LCE will be much more fun if you deliberately address different areas of conversation.
This is especially relevant for online LCEs because we all spend a lot of time on the computer and are distracted by Facebook, background events, etc. Planning varied and fun themes ensures that your LCE is the only thing on your mind when you turn on your computer. By avoiding distractions and staying focused on a topic, you will get the absolute most from the exchange.
Role play and explore situations. This can work as well through Skype as in person. Your buddy can prep you for possible job interviews or interactions with trained staff. Role plays are a great way of both minimizing nerves (by pretending to be someone else) and becoming adept in situations you may need in real life. And they do not need much preparation. Just set a situation and think of a few points that may come up. Believe me, it is less effort than preparing nothing and then forcing conversation about the weather and your summer plans.
If your language has a formal\informal function, as most languages do, you can choose to speak one week formally and discuss more professional topics such as your career. Then the next week you can devote to casual speech and slang words.
Get practical. Put yourself in real situations. Explore language through food!Go to dinner or to the pub together, order food and pay the bill. Agree to take your native buddy around town without guidance so that you read the maps and you ask for directions when you get lost. Go to an art gallery and explain how each picture makes you feel. Take the train and describe the route to your buddy.
Maybe you want this to be very low-key and laid back. That is fine as long as it is what you and your buddy both want. But remember that variability and challenging yourself will take you farther faster. You are going to meet loads of foreign speakers to chat and hang with once your language level starts accelerating. Why not use this novel opportunity to its maximum potential?
This was fun. When shall we meet next? Always end with a new time to meet. This is important for motivation and so that your LCE does not get swallowed up by the busyness of your lives. Having research to do, a role-play to plan or a topic to mull over means that your mind will stay on your LCE all week.
How Do I Know My LCE Is Really Working?
Want to be sure that you are getting the most out of your LCE experience? Want to rest easy knowing that you are making tons of great progress thanks to your new buddy?
Make a goal for your LCE, whether it be to widen your vocabulary, increase your confidence or simply be able to order drinks by yourself (with or without laughter). This main goal gives you something to aim towards. Then you can set up small, achievable goals for each meeting, such as:
Go out for dinner and talk to the waiter all night
Have a basic discussion about the political background of this country
Survive a 30-minute conversation without giving in and reverting to English
This does not need to be a structured thing with charts and progress boards. Just keep it in your own mind. Keep your focus on what you want to achieve and how that is going. This will keep your LCE alive and useful for you and make sure that you know you are progressing.
It is also up to you to set the level of correction you want from your buddy. If your aim is confidence, then just relax and talk as much as possible. If you want to nail your grammar, then ask them to point out and explain mistakes. You can set yourself specific goals for each session, for example:
Today I want to use conditionals correctly
I am bored of using the same adjectives all the time. Today I will experiment with more advanced and unusual ones
Once your buddy knows your aim they can help you reach it and give you feedback and advice.
How Do I Keep My LCE Fun?
Treat it like any other important relationship—invest your time and energy in it. Commitment and regular communication are important to keep your LCE a part of your life. Be excited about it. Goal plan and reflect on how each meeting went and what you each got from it. What could you improve next time and how could you better help your partner? Once your LCE is something you are excited about, it will stay on the front page of your attention span.
How to End My Language Conversation Exchange?
For whatever reason, LCEs are sometimes quite short. Maybe you just needed that initial boost to get you going in your new language or to find a group of friends. Maybe you or your buddy is super busy now. That’s okay, it usually has to end sometime—and you can always keep in touch in the future if you like.
But do make sure you end your LCE fittingly. It has been an adventure and a learning process for both of you. Go for a final dinner or drink together. If you are online make sure you schedule that final webchat or Skype meet. Chat about what you learned and what was fun and think about your plans now.
How you will keep improving your language? Did you get what you wanted? Did you push yourself and reach new boundaries in your new language? Are you still hungry to go farther, to get even more fluent, confident and capable?
If so…there are a million other LCE partners waiting for you. Whether online or in your town, reach out to them. Remember—each human being is a whole new world. For you, that is a whole world of new knowledge, understanding and learning. Use this opportunity to your advantage!