Many years ago, I was talking to somebody that I had just met, and they asked me if I was from Scranton. This was the first time I was asked a question so specific to where I lived that I was caught off guard. I told the woman that I was from the area and asked how she knew. You have an accent, she told me.
What? I thought I spoke standard English just like anyone else in the area! There wasn’t anything in my speech that made me think that I sounded like I was from a specific area. When people think of American accents, they usually refer to the South, New York, or New England. Who knew that even in the little region where you grew up, your accent could be seen as different? There is much diversity within American English, but that doesn’t just apply to how we sound when we speak.
I have interacted with a variety of language exchange partners from many different places. Not all language exchanges give you the same experience, and not all language exchanges will go smoothly. However, if you are looking to make the experience less stressful for both parties, I would suggest using simple language.
I naturally don’t use complicated language and I don’t see why it needs to be used in everyday situations, like some people use it. If I can get my point across concisely without having to repeat myself or clarify what I was saying, then I can continue to say even more things. I have found this to be very helpful as a language exchange partner, because most of the time, my partners will understand what I am saying, even if they don’t consider themselves “fluent” in English. Being able to understand the conversation will make them more motivated to continue speaking to you and you will be able to have more fluid conversations.
I have been told that I enunciate in English. That can contribute to a better and easier language exchange, but I would highly suggest trying to use language that is simpler and more natural, rather than what you are reading in your textbook. However, I would not use language that is so simple that it is insulting. So try it out! See what happens when you speak to somebody using most of the vocabulary that they’ll probably know!
What do you look for in a significant other? A business partner? An employee? Are you looking for someone much like yourself? More organized? More energetic? More spontaneous and romantic? Someone very appealing to the eyes? When looking someone to fill some kind of important role in our lives, we tend to have standards. Businesses make lists of qualities they are looking for in a future employee. We make mental lists in our heads when we go out with someone, whether we realize it or not. The same thing can happen when looking for a language exchange partner. We are looking for that person that we can hold a conversation with for more than five minutes, who is willing to help us, and speak (for half of the time or more) the language we are learning.
Have you ever gone into a language exchange thinking that people might be doing the same thing when they talk to you? Although it is important to find a good language partner. It is equally as important to be a good language partner. If we all were to work on being the language partner that we would want to have, and were not concerned about what we can get out of the exchange, maybe we would start to find the language partner we were looking for in the first place.
To be a good language partner, or conversationalist in general, I would suggest keeping the conversation about them. Talk about topics that your partner is interested in. Ask about their lives and their dreams. If you both have traveled to the same country or have the same hobby, then talk about it! However, I would suggest doing this when it’s their turn to practice your native language so that they can do most of the talking.
Sometimes you will run into a partner who is too shy to speak your native language if you speak their language very well. Don’t only practice the language you want to learn, even if they’re nervous or don’t speak well. Just like you came in hoping to get something out of the exchange, so did they. You want to encourage your partner to speak, multiple times if you have to. I have been in situations where I have done this. If they still insist on only speaking their native language, even after you encourage them a few times, then you can spend the rest of the conversation speaking their language, or find a way to incorporate your language into the exchange by asking what they need help with.
Not everyone is looking to better themselves as a language partner. Sometimes you will need to find a new partner. If your partner only wants to speak your native language even though you try speaking their’s several times, it may be time to find someone else. Sometimes you just don’t click with someone and can’t hold a conversation. That’s okay; it happens. Not everyone will be a good language partner or the right fit.
What do you as a language exchange partner? Do you make a list of conversation topics? Do you come with questions about their language? Let me know your language exchange tips in the comments below so we can all better ourselves!