In 2011, when I started writing on language learning, the online language exchange was doing well. In 2015, it’s doing phenomenally well – new ideas, websites and keen learners are to be found every day. How, then, can you ensure that what you share on language learning projects online leads to quality learning? Are there any guidelines to good foreign language sharing? Let’s try to find these out.
I’m giving you questions, not answers. This is important: each of your bilingual situations will be different, and each language you learn will demand something else perhaps. But the questions can be brainstormed (with your teacher, your learning partner, or other successful learners / language mentors) and the answers should guide you to decide what to do. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter later and share your additions to the list!
1. What, where and with whom am I comfortable sharing?
We might as well deal with this first: it’s one thing to discuss your favourite books in Spanish with your colleague at lunch, but it’s something else when a newly-met exchange partner asks you about your favourite types of lingerie after 5 minutes of conversation. Language learners are inspiring, fantastic people – in general. Know beforehand how you will deal with those who prove exceptions to the rule. Stay careful out there, but stay positive – thinking about it before you kick off will ensure you’re determined to find a good experience even despite a bad learning session.
2. What excites us both (all)?
Online gaming is one of the best ways to practice English. That’s because, in any team, there are people focused on one goal, playing a game they’re excited about. Follow this principle when deciding on conversation topics, and stick to it when it’s time to follow-up. That way, you’ll know that your sessions will be exciting. Don’t feel like you have to mention certain topics just because they look like “classroom stuff” – you may always get to them later.
3. How will we both (all) follow up and expand on what we learned?
This one is about moving beyond speaking. Don’t just count on listening and speaking to learn any language: what will your homework be? What can you write about, email about, and so on? How do you decide where to go next, how to revise the things you learned?
4. What are our language goals?
This did not come first for a reason. In a serious classroom situation, the focus is on achievement, and tests / homework assignments are designed to keep you on track. In an informal language exchange, fun is at least as important as progress – and rapport is built by sharing interest. Having said that, it’s useful to know (really, clearly know) what we are all trying to achieve with our language learning projects.
5. What channels / media are we most comfortable using?
This one sounds like a small thing, but over a longer period of time it does make a big difference. If you tried to convince me to start using an IM system today, I’d need at least 2 months to get used to it. Those 2 months could be spent on rocking a language learning session every day – if we just stuck to email, which I’m really good at!
Become really interested in what works, for you and for your partners in multilingual adventures. If you’re using it, keep using it to learn, don’t switch just because it’s “new and trendy” or you might risk learning a new online tool instead of a new language.
Bonus resource: BRAVE worksheet – “10 FREE resources for Really Effective Language Sharing”
This worksheet is available in my “Bonus Resources” section. If you already joined my course or got my ebook, refresh the page to see the new link. If not – it’s not too late! You’ll get lots of other tools there as well. I hope you enjoy it.
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