Guestpost: Language Exchanges – Do They Really Work?

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Language exchanges are becoming increasingly popular as a cost-effective (usually free) way to learn a new language. I’d never really considered using them, until I moved to Taiwan. To be honest, with you, they were very low on my radar for actively seeking out a language exchange partner. In the past, I’d found living in a different country and just assimilating myself a good way to learn a new language.

However, I became more curious about them when a friend was telling me about his experience. His Chinese at the time seemed fairly proficient, and I was impressed that he’d got to his level within just a couple of years. His language exchange partner is now his wife, so they can’t be all that bad.

Some context

In theory, finding a language exchange partner in Taiwan should be a walk in the park. There’s a ridiculous number of Taiwanese looking for a native English/French/German/Spanish etc. speaker especially as many Taiwanese study or work abroad at some point in their lives. The majority are females, but there’s also a good amount of guys, looking for someone to help them improve their English, so they can get a promotion within a Taiwanese company. Trade with foreign companies for Taiwan is vital, companies like Acer, HTC and Asus have set the trend for many Taiwanese companies in the tech industry to go global.  Taiwanese like a lot of Asians, are shy to speak English so their English capabilities fall under the radar, somewhat.

My experience

After, I’d heard about tealit.com.tw a website you’ll probably be referred to within your first week of landing in Taiwan from other foreigners, being a good place to find a LE partner I gave it a crack. I emailed a few people, and got responses a few weeks later. However, nothing resulted. Now, I’m not sure this was down to my slackness, at the time I was pretty busy in my job at a software company, but still had the weekends free or the other end. Perhaps the other person had got too many LE requests and had to do some culling. Anyway, I didn’t take it to heart and decided to improve my Chinese in other ways.

Whilst, I was in Taiwan I never paid for any Chinese language lessons at a school or University, most just seemed dubious at best. This was from talking to many other foreigners who had gone through the famous Shida/Tai-Da language programs. Really, if you want to speak Chinese to a good level and not have a typical “Wai guo ren” accent you have to commit at least 2 years of study and as I was working full-time. Instead, I decided I’m going to learn off friends who had already gone through Chinese learning programs and could speak decent Chinese. My work environment helped a little bit, as my foreign work colleagues would often communicate in Chinese when talking to Taiwanese who weren’t so comfortable speaking English.

However, the biggest change I noticed in my learning development was when I went out of Taipei and into the small towns where people had basic to no English and I was forced out of my comfort zone. I went surfing most weekends, and began making friends. Local surfers wanted to improve their English, and I wanted to improve my Chinese so it was a no-brainer. Most weekends were spent surfing, with BBQs in the summertime or hot soups and fish in the winter. I made so many great friends during this period, and got so much out of it. Myself, and a few other foreigners, became part of an extended family and we got to improve our Chinese. Those days were some of my best in Taiwan.

So, anyone looking into language exchanges in Asia. I’d say try looking into language exchanges online, but if that doesn’t work out just force yourself out of your comfort zone, /participate in sport events/find a travel partner/chat with friendly strangers. Who knows where it could lead?

Information about the guest-poster:

Language Connect is an efficient translation service agency with offices in Melbourne and Sydney. We provide a range of professional services including: global, consultancy, multilingual SEO, translation and interpreting and are ATC, ISO and GALA accredited.

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