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Todd Bryant and Mixxer, the Language Exchange Community

Interview: Todd Bryant from Mixxer, the Language Exchange Community

Learning Thai with Skype language exchange partners…

For the past two weeks I’ve been writing about Skype and learning Thai. How to learn Thai via Skype was a brief introduction. I then interviewed my Thai Skype Teacher, Khun Narisa Naropakorn to share how she teaches Thai via Skype. Thai language school Study Thai Online graced us with a guest post: Study Thai Online via Skype. And I even got into the act with My Skype Thai Language Learning Experience. On Monday, I went in search of Skype Teachers and Schools.

As I have no experience with language exchange partners, I went to Todd Bryant, who manages one of the top language exchange communities around: Mixxer. It was Todd who came up with the idea for a Skype language community during a collaboration between himself and another academic, Professor Akiko Meguro.

Todd Bryant from Mixxer, the Language Exchange Community…

Todd, as a Foreign Language Technologist at Dickinson College, what does your job entail?

I support any technology that would help the professors of foreign languages in the class. Many of our classes do Skype language exchanges. I maintain the Mixxer, update our computer labs, or organize the language exchange events for our classes. They also use a lot of social software for collaborative writing and podcasts. I give workshops on the topic and help maintain the college blog and wiki.

How do language exchange sites work?

They’re very simple. Everyone registers and specifies the language(s) they are able to teach (their native language), and the language(s) they would like to learn. They then do a search for a partner based on this criteria, so someone who speaks English and is learning Thai would do a search for Thai speakers learning English. The two people agree on a time to meet and spend half of the time in each language.

Is Mixxer set up differently than other language exchange communities?

The primary difference is that it is strictly an educational site. It’s not like the international friend and dating sites. It also provides the ability for teachers to organize “events” for their students by inviting individual learners from the Mixxer to contact their students at a given time.

How can users get the most out of Mixxer?

The most important advice is to be active. It’s helpful to have several partners, so send at least five people a message suggesting times to meet. Be sure to express your willingness to help them in the message as well.

Come prepared to the language exchange. Have some questions prepared in the target language to avoid long pauses in the conversation.

Remember that the other person isn’t a teacher. You’re going to still want to either be enrolled in a class or have a grammar book to give yourself some structure.

Some language exchange sites suggest that the users be at least intermediate level in their target language, but can beginners use the communities as well?

Our Japanese students start at the end of their first semester, when they are still very much beginners. For beginners, they need to prepare more before the exchange by writing down all of their questions and practicing the related vocabulary. It’s more of an interview for them than an open ended conversation.

Is SecondLife usable for students of the Thai language?

I’m not a big fan of SecondLife. I’ve found the system unreliable, and there’s no demarcation between users interested in learning and “griefers” or others there simply to make mischief.

Along the lines of language exchange sites utilizing Skype, what are the other online resources for students and language teachers? For instance, in a recent search I came across WiZiQ, which appears to be developed around the concept of virtual classrooms.

Those sites are set up pair teachers, which isn’t what we’re about. We focus more on open and free sites that are available to anyone. Honestly, there are so many. These are my notes on Open Content for a presentation: Notes

Teaching sites such as Mixxer and WiZiQ are gaining in popularity with online language learners. With your extensive interest in the subject, what do you see as the future of the online teaching industry?

I think we’ll see more opportunities for language learners to be engaged within a larger community in all aspects of their learning. By being part of a community, all of their reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities can have a true practical communicative function. It may be that students become linked via the online presence of textbooks, through universities, or via websites such as the Mixxer. The challenge is to combine the grammar and content of a traditional textbook with activities and a community of language learners.

Todd Bryant
Foreign Language Liaison, Instructional Media Services, Dickinson College
Mixxer Language Exchange Community | Educational Tech Ideas

How to learn Thai via Skype, the series…

This post is part six 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.

9 Comments

  1. Hi Cat, this was the Skype post I was really waiting for; a way to improve my Thai for free :-)I don’t know how well this would work in practice though. Do you plan to test run this method?

  2. Hi Paul. Free is nice :-) I’m not going to try it out right away as I have some megga Thai studying starting asap, that will go to the end of the year. Instead, I’ve interviewed Fiona from Baby Steps to Fluency, who does use language exchange partners. Her interview is set to go live next week.

  3. That sounds great Cat, I look forward to the interview with Fiona. I have come across this type of community on the web before, but I’ve never got around to trying it out.

  4. Catherine I think this is a great way to learn or maintain a language. Much more relaxed and as Paul said, free! It’s wonderful that a website has brought everyone, teachers and students, together.

    A few years ago I joined a learn Vietnamese language site, opened an account, created a profile and waited for anyone interested to contact me. But, because language exchange was not the website’s main goal, it took quite some time. When I finally hooked up via Skype with my new online friend I realised that I had my text book pronunciations embarrassingly wrong :(

  5. Paul, if you do get a language exchange partner, could you come back and let us know how it goes? I’m curious as well (but no time this year).

    Snap, How long did you do the exchange? Were you able to work out your Vietnamese pronuncian with your exchange partner? Or did you hire a teacher instead? Questions… questions… :-)

  6. It wasn’t a formal/official exchange and to be honest my inadequacies scared me, so I avoided taking my ‘lessons’. If I were going on more than just a three week holiday to Vietnam I would have perservered. I did however correct some of the mispronunciations through my brief Skyping experience, which was very benifical. Of course I had to undo some of the damage I had already done by teaching myself. On the upside, I met my teacher and made many new friends from the experience.

    I’d love to use Mixxer, or similar, after we return from Thailand (if we ever get there) to preserve what I have learned and to continue to practice Thai. Unfortunately I can’t consider it right now…just way too busy!

  7. I was curious about beginners learning via a language exchange as well, but I’d be a bit nervous starting too early. I know some people learn better by jumping in and talking so it’d be perfect for them.

  8. Cat, free is good and I will definitely be looking into this…but it might take me a week or so I have to catch up to the rest of my class at the new school so I have some studying to do!

  9. Talen, your new school sounds wonderful so you are sure to have a blast instead of it feeling like a drudge. But I guess it’s also down to how long you’ve been out of school. So it’ll be fun reading your reaction to sitting behind a school desk again.

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