The Linguist

The Linguist 53,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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22 The Linguist AUGUST/SEPTEMBER FEATURES From one-on-one meet-ups to 'speed-swapping' sessions, Claire Nevill finds out why people are increasingly setting up language exchanges on their own doorstep "Language learners are realising that to be able to acquire another language, practising with native speakers instead of their fellow language learners in the classroom, gives them so much more," claims Dan Yuen, founder of – an online community to help people find language exchange partners. Yuen set up the site in 2003 for students and teachers to find each other, but he soon realised that people were using it to arrange more casual meetings. Yuen puts a recent spike in membership down to people striving for fluency. "I think more people are realising that becoming fluent takes lots of practice, and the best way to stay motivated is to practise with partners who are trying to help you while discussing or doing activities which are fun and interesting to both of you." While many use the exchange to build on or maintain their existing language skills, others are using it to learn a language from scratch. Saira, Head of Marketing and Communications for a law firm, wanted to be able to converse with locals during her frequent trips to Spain and South America. She put an advert up on the 'skills and language swap' section of Gumtree and was overwhelmed by the response: she currently has language exchange meetings lined up with four different partners. "I want to meet a few people to see the quality of the conversation and how we get on," she says. Her first meeting was with Manuel, an engineer from Galicia, who decided to do an exchange to supplement his daily four-hour lessons at the Callan School. "I think it takes some time to switch your mind from thinking in one language to another and the most important thing you can do is to get the opportunity to speak it as much as you can," he explains. Saira and Manuel hit it off and the conversation flowed from talking about work to travel, food and wine regions in Spain. "Any conversation you have is more fun if you have common interests. Saira and I laughed a lot," says Manuel. "It is important to supplement self-study if I'm going to get anywhere. And I know what I need to work on from the conversations, which is really helpful," adds Saira. She also studies Spanish grammar textbooks, while Manuel watches films in English and reads The Financial Times to improve his business vocabulary. Getting the format right Benny Lewis has learnt ten languages in ten years, mainly through meeting new people and immersing himself in their language, and is the author of Fluent in 3 Months, a book based on his blog of the same name. "So many of us, myself included, simply don't do well in a classroom environment," he says. "If I'm not being engaged with directly, my attention drifts. Languages are interactive and communicative, so when you make it about communication, both parties are active." So how should a language exchange be structured? Lewis has seen them work best when there is a structure to each session and shared expectations. Saira and Manuel agree. "I think you definitely need to be structured, especially as a beginner, once you've decided what you want," says Saira. On their second meeting, they plan to speak for half an hour in English and half an hour in Spanish, and then to read for half an hour each from a newspaper or book, so they can correct each other's pronunciation. Saira will focus on Manuel's business English, while he will help Saira grasp the basics. Arranging to meet up with one person, rather than being limited to a set day and time in the classroom, is very appealing. "The great thing about learning outside of a classroom is variety and flexibility. We could always walk around the park and learn vocabulary about things like nature," says Saira. Now you're talking

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