As you read the title, you may be thinking that the benefits of a language exchange partner are obvious, right? You get to practice speaking, which leads to improving your fluency. Ok, blog post done. However, let me specify here that I am writing about the benefits of English exchange amongst learners, and not necessarily with a native speaker. Many learners think, and I currently have several students at English Outside the Box who initially felt the same way, that they won’t improve their language skills when talking with another non-native speaker. Many think their grammar and pronunciation will go uncorrected, they’ll be hearing mistakes and therefore, learn “incorrect” English, or will have no significant benefit for participating in such an exchange.
Well, you are wrong.
With all due respect of course, please forgive what could be interpreted as an insult, but I strongly believe that the benefits of English exchange, even with a non-native speaker, 100% and completely outweigh any possible negative (although, I still don’t believe any negative truly exists). I am going to begin by arguing against these common hesitations that my students and others have suggested, providing reason why I think they’re false. Then we’ll end on a happy note, by focusing on the positives.
Won’t my mistakes go uncorrected?
No, this is not true. Before you begin the language exchange, discuss your goals and intentions with your partner. Remember, they want to learn too, and also want to be corrected. Peer corrections are encouraged during these language exchanges, so many of your mistakes will not/should not go unnoticed.
But won’t I hear incorrect English grammar or pronunciation?
Maybe, but there is your chance to use your knowledge and skills to correct that person and help them on their English journey. You can reinforce your own knowledge while practicing a different speaking skill: teaching. You most likely will make mistakes too, and they will be there to correct you (if this is the structure you’ve agreed upon).
But what can I actually learn from a non-native speaker? They’re just learning too!
Have you ever asked a native English speaker, who is not a teacher, what an adjective clause is? Perhaps the structure of a phrasal verb (and the difference between a particle and preposition)? Or why we use the simple past in the if clause of the present/future unreal conditional? Chances are you’ll get a blank stare, or an, “I dunno, just because” type of answer. Unless they’ve studied English more in depth, many native speakers cannot explain why a rule exists; on the other hand, a learner can. A learner knows the rules, reasons, and structures because they, too, have learned it. If they’ve studied something you haven’t, this is where the teaching/learning can really come in!
What about time zone differences, how can I connect with another learner who doesn’t speak my native tongue?
The same way you connect with me (or other teachers). There are plenty of learners who don’t speak your native tongue scattered around the world and looking for a language exchange partner, right now! Luckily some people are early risers, others are night owls, so it’s easier than you think to connect with someone else online. If you aren’t sure how or where to start, send me a message!
Are you convinced yet? Here are the benefits of supplementing your English lessons with non-native language exchange.
1. Extra speaking practice
I know, I know. This one is obvious. Let me focus on the word, “extra” here. You already get speaking practice in your classroom or online lessons (if you’re not currently learning, connect with me to do so!), so when you supplement these learning lessons with language exchange, you are getting even more practice in speaking skills, actual speaking skills. What I mean by this is that you are vocalizing sounds, practicing pronunciation, and putting your new grammar and vocabulary to use in a conversation, with another human being and not your computer, a recorder, or the mirror. I do think speaking aloud to yourself or the mirror is great if that is your only option, but speaking with a human is undeniably (without a doubt) better. Practice makes perfect, and truly speaking is the only way to practice.
2. More affordable, convenient, and “doable”
If you could move to an English speaking country, and surround yourself with the language and native speakers, I am sure you would. If you could take 1 hour lessons everyday, or multiple times a day with an English teacher, I am sure you would. If you could pause reality and dedicate everything to only learning English to help you reach your fluency goal, I am sure you would! However, for the majority of people this is not possible. Study abroad programs and everyday English lessons can get costly, and most people aren’t able to just pick up and move abroad or dedicate themselves only to English because of life, work, family, friends, etc.. If you’re a night owl, early riser, or in a time zone that provides limited availability with your teacher, having access to this language partner is convenient, and even accessible outside of regular “working hours.” Finding a language exchange partner is free, easy, convenient, and a realistic way to connect with the language.
3. 100% English dedication & equal interest
With traditional language exchange, you split a session 50/50. 50% of the lesson is in your language, while you help the other learner, and vice versa (the opposite of the statement is true). However, when both speakers are interested in the same language (English), every session is dedicated completely to this. You don’t have to “share” or “split” your learning experience. Both speakers are also equally interested in the goal, to reach higher communicational fluency. Sharing a common goal can provide a level of support, and increase the potential of learning because you both want to help each other, and you both want to reach success.
4. Exchange more than just language: tips, strategies, resources
I know I give my students so many resources, but that doesn’t mean there are websites, YouTube channels, or valuable learning tools that I may not know about. Google’s (and other search engines) results vary from country to country, so an English language partner from another area of the world may have found a different resource than what pulled up on my or your search result list. Take advantage of this variety plus learn helpful tips and strategies that have worked for other learners. Perhaps they have a unique mnemonic device (something that helps people remember something) to remember some grammar concepts, or a ‘go-to’ (always helpful) exercise that is beneficial. Your teacher should definitely be providing you with this information, and as a foreign language learner I implement many of these strategies in my teaching, but more is definitely better in this case. Through conversations you can share experiences, relate to difficulties, and use this information to enhance your learning journey.
5. Expose yourself to different accents & culture
Imagine where you are going to be using your English skills. Do you imagine using them with only your current English teacher, only with native speakers, and/or only within your own culture? Chances are the answer to all of these questions is, no. Whether or not you plan on working in an English speaking country, you’ll likely be using your English while you travel through other countries, with foreign clients/customers/colleagues/employees, or with that stranger you meet also speaking this language you learn and love! So why not practice listening to and speaking with multiple accents, and getting exposed to new cultures? With another non-native speaker you can hear words being said in a variety of ways, and learn how to differentiate words and their sounds/parts. You won’t always hear English being spoken by a native speaker, so don’t limit your learning opportunities. And finally, what better way to learn about new cultures, than conversing and interacting with different people? Use your language exchange to learn more than just language.
6. Improve your listening comprehension simultaneously
Adding to the previous point of being exposed to different accents, remember that this language exchange is more than just speaking practice, it will allow you to practice listening comprehension as well. Forget the focus on the accent you are hearing, focus on the fact that you are allowing yourself opportunity to practice your listening skills in a genuine, authentic, and true conversational way. You wouldn’t turn off, fast forward, or stop listening to a “foreign accent” in a movie you are watching for listening practice, so why resist real-life training for the same reason? If you want to successfully improve your English, it’s important to provide a variety of practice, and this is one more addition to that.
7. Added motivation to learn and a stronger commitment
You’re human, you have a life, and you might be a procrastinator, but guess what? That’s OK! Self-study is necessary when learning a language, but this can take a lot of disciple. There are many distractions around us that can easily take our focus and attention off of learning. We sit down to study, read, or do our homework, but then… the distractions come, or perhaps we don’t even make it to sitting down because we’ve found other “more important” things to do. Well, when you make a commitment to meet someone online, it’s a lot harder to not follow through because someone else is relying on you. You can think of this exchange session as motivation, a way to “force” you to study at your designated time, a way to create a stronger commitment in your schedule, and more reason to follow through.
8. Less structure, and a more fun and relaxed setting
Forget the structure, the pressure, and the formal setting of an English lesson. It’s alright to admit that sometimes you may be too tired to put the amount of focus you do in a lesson, to retrieve and apply everything you learned in the last class, and to pay attention to the new grammar concepts and rules being taught. Let your brain take a break from worrying about grammar, and stressing over vocabulary and just let your language come out. Feel comfortable with another learner, don’t fret (worry) about mistakes, and let loose in your real-life language situation. Being in this friendly situation is a great way to build confidence while speaking, so take advantage of it!
Are you ready to start your English exchange?
Just to clarify, I am not saying that you should only practice with a non-native speaker, I am saying you should supplement your lessons with this English exchange. Using this in combination with your current course is an added exercise, an extra bonus, and another opportunity to improve an important skill area. Perhaps think about it from this way (especially if you’re still not sure): you read a book without always checking your comprehension, you watch movies/TV without later discussing them to confirm your understanding, and you write just to write, sometimes without edits or corrections. Speaking should be the same. Just because you are not receiving structured feedback, doesn’t mean you’re not learning. Your goal is to be understood, while speaking accurately of course, and it’s easier for a native speaker to listen to inaccurate English and still get the main idea; however, it may not be as easy for another learner. If you can’t get your point across with a learner, then you probably are having some difficulty expressing yourself. I will leave you with something wonderful I read on The Polyglot Club, “The Classroom is for Corrections, language exchange is for Practice!” Start practicing now.
If you would like to join English Outside the Box’s group conversation class, click here. If you’d like to connect with other learners to start your language exchange, you can sign up for my language exchange program. Send an e-mail to
jenesl760 @ englishoutsidethebox.com (NOTE: that e-mail is all together, no spaces, but looks this way due to spam bots)
Do you have another point you’d like to add, or an argument you’d like me to shoot down? Share it below! I look forward to connecting with you all, in some way or another.