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Baby Steps to Fluency on Skype Language Exchange Partners

Baby Steps to Fluency on Skype Language Exchange Partners

Fiona from Baby Steps to Fluency…

This is the seventh post in the Learn Thai via Skype series. If you’ve just arrived, feel free to start at the beginning with How to Learn Thai via Skype and work your way up from there.

When I have time to spare, I enjoy reading the experiences of other language bloggers. And not just those from the Thai persuasion. Fiona’s Baby Steps to Fluency (no longer online) is one I follow for awhile.

Young Fiona is on her way to being a polyglot (which is waaaay over my abilities), so it’s interesting to read her mindset.

I don’t have experience with language exchange partners so Fiona kindly agreed to an interview to help me out.

Interviewing Fiona about language exchange partners…

Fiona, could you please tell us about your interest in learning languages?

Fiona from Baby Steps to FluencyI’ve been interested in languages pretty much since I can remember. I grew up to an American mother in The Netherlands – and, though I didn’t speak English, I remember spending hours looking through my mom’s English books, copying different words, trying to pronounce them, and asking my mom what certain words meant. When I moved to America, I learned English ‘for real’, and the ability to talk to a whole ‘nother culture fascinated me. Throughout school, I studied languages – and now, I’m an addict ;)

When did you first start using Skype for language exchange?

The idea of using Skype for language exchange actually snuck up on me. I had been a member of a group Unilang Language chat for quite a while, when we started casually having voice chats, which, inevitably, turned into a chat with a medley of languages. After a while of doing this, I started talking to some of the members individually, and started having chats in my target languages with these people. It wasn’t until later that I realized there were actually websites based on this concept.

What is a typical Skype language exchange for you?

Typically, I get together with someone for who English or Dutch is their target language, and where Russian or Spanish is their native language. We usually spend about 30 minutes speaking in one language, and then 30 minutes in the other. When I’m speaking in one of my ‘native’ languages, I correct the other’s mistakes and answer their questions, and when we switch, I get my mistakes fixed and questions answered. To have an effective language exchange, we generally use a mix of text and voice chats, though both have their benefits – at night, usually, I’d do just text chats, whereas during the day, I prefer voice chats.

How many times a week/month do you set up a language exchange?

Depends – since I’m a student, I usually have no more than one or two chats a month during the school year – I generally have many chances to talk in my target languages during the school day. During the summer, I try to get in at least one chat a week.

How long is a regular language exchange session?

Usually an hour – 30 minutes per language. If we both have more time, we talk longer, and if we have less time, we decrease it to 15 minutes per language. However, an hour total seems to be perfect.

Do you follow a structured exchange as suggested by the Cormier method?

My language exchanges tend to be similar, but I’ve never purposely followed this method. I tend to go with the flow – if we’re having a great time talking about a subject in a specific language, we will continue talking in that language until we feel like changing. 30 minutes per language is a guideline, not a rule. I focus on having fun and learning, if that means deviating from the different methods, that’s fine!

Do you record your language exchanges? If so, what software do you use?

I try to record my language exchanges when I can. I find it very beneficial to listen to our discussions later, so that I can review corrections and listen to my accent so that I know what to improve on. I use Audacity.

Other than Skype, what other resources do you use for language exchanges?

If I am doing a voice chat, a headset is integral – it reduces echo and makes it easier to understand each other. I keep my language books close by incase I want to look something up, and as mentioned before I like using Audacity to record my conversations.

Do you prefer language exchanges with a group, or one on one?

For serious studying, I like doing languages exchanges one on one. It is easier to concentrate talking to one person, and I tend to get more done. However, for ‘fun’ discussions, group chats are great – not quite as effective, but it’s fun talking to a lot of people and listening to people with more knowledge talk can expose you to more vocabulary. So, I speak mostly one on one, but try to talk to groups as well.

Where do you normally find your language exchange partners?

Most of my language exchange partners come from message boards and other websites I’m a member of. I hardly ever go to dedicated language exchange websites. Most of my partners come from How To Learn Any Language and Unilang.

How many language exchange partners do you juggle at one time?

I don’t have more than one or two per language. Most of my partners are friends, so we usually just hit each other up when we feel like chatting, so it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘juggling’ partners, per se – I just focus on talking to a couple people that I feel are particularly knowledgeable.

Is it difficult to find a good language exchange partner fit?

It can be. Not only do you need someone that speaks your target language, you need to find someone who has similar interests (so you have something to talk about), similar goals, and knowledge of grammar and other aspects of your target language. I have gone through a lot of language partners before I found one that I really click with.

Have you ever had a teacher driven language exchange?

No, I haven’t. However, I am planning on asking my language teacher next year to do something similar – I’ll let ya know how it works!

What advice can you give to students considering a language exchange partner(s)?

Make sure you know each other’s goals so that you can both get something out of the exchange. Also, make sure it is someone with similar interests and personality, because a language exchange partner that you don’t get along with or can’t talk to won’t be your partner for very long.

Fiona,
Baby Steps to Fluency

How to learn Thai via Skype, the series…

This post is part seven of an eight part series.

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

7 Comments

  1. Cat, this is definitely something I want to look into once I have more classes under my belt and I’m a little more settled. Being able to gett help in this way would work so well for me since I’m already using skype for many other things.

  2. What Fiona has to say is really interesting. It sounds quite social so you could probably learn without it feeling too much like work. I suppose the hard thing is just starting off in one of these groups.

  3. Talen, Todd from Mixxer does have Japanese students using language exchange at an early time in their studies. But I agree that it would take at least some knowledge to make sure the conversations are not all one-sided. Ok, unless you got them to drill you on your Thai ABC’s!

    Paul, Fiona does use language exchange for making friends and that is something I hadn’t thought of. So it takes it away from a chore and makes it fun instead. With the right partner, obviously.

    I’ll look into it next year as I’d like to see if I can find language exchange partners with similar interests as mine. It’d be great to be conversant in Thai on the subject of plants, gardening, and design.

  4. Catherine before you started this series I thought the future was bright and orange, I’m staring to believe it’s Skype.

    There’s a lot still to be said about learning from books, the world wouldn’t be where it is today without them. I’m now convinced that to learn any language the best way forward has to be in a one on one Skype type world. Visual, vocal or text. There can’t be any better way to learn a language than from personal contact with a native speaker. However I do still believe a language book should be first used to get the gist and fundamentals of your chosen language, then the book should be studied further alongside a Skype type program.

    As far as I go, I’ll continue with my David Smyth book until the day comes when I’m not too far off hitting Thailand for good (could be years), then I really do think I’ll tackle Skype as a fast forward track to learning Thai.

    Fiona is one cool looking young lady and a near polyglot too. Do you girls have a saying “Some gals have all the luck”, like us guys do.

  5. I use books as well. I need the time to absorb the information on my own, at my own pace. But Skype time is active time.

    Btw – I couldn’t help myself. I picked up David Smyth’s newly revamped TYT Speak Thai with Confidence. It’s so new, I haven’t even checked out the CDs. But the booklet has transliteration on the left and English on the right. There is no Thai script.

    Yes, gals have the same saying :-) But it often has something to do with the guy hanging around.

  6. try immersion… it helps too!

  7. Erik, immersion certainly does work – but it’s mostly for the brave :-D

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