Friday, August 26, 2011

Language Exchange: One on One vs. Group Language Exchange

Have you heard about the program called “language exchange”—an increasingly popular language acquisition program, based loosely around the premise of student and school exchanges? If you have, you know that there are essentially two ways to participate in a language exchange: in a one-on-one setting and with a group. And while both of these programs offer a number of advantages for new language learners, there has been some recent debate about which program model is the more effective. To help clarify this issue, here we will take a closer look at each of these styles of language exchange, explain their differences and similarities of each, and let you decide for yourself which of these programs offers the most benefit to learners.

Language Exchange: What Is Language Exchange?

Language exchange is a unique and extremely effective form of new language learning in which two or more people are grouped together, either physically in the same room or electronically through email, video chat etc., to learn each other’s language. The program can be conducted in either a one on one or group setting, with activities designed to teach and learn the other language.

In recent years, the language exchange model of new language acquisition has been lauded for the benefits it offers to all learners involved. It is a great alternative to the traditional model of language learning, direct language instruction, because instead of having one person teach many, this program demands a direct, even intimate participation between both parties, with plenty of opportunities for one on one discussions and language activities. This not only helps to learn the word and grammar equivalents in another language, but also the various idioms and pronunciations in language that are so vital to complete fluency.

One-on-One Language Exchange

One-on-one language exchange is a style in which two learners participate together in activities and dialogue designed to teach and learn the other’s language. In other words, a student from, say, Mexico would be paired with a French student, each desiring to learn the other’s language. This type of one-on-one exchange, with activities and instructions that are part of an overall lesson plan designed by the language exchange coordinator, can span several months or even a couple of years, and during that time it is not uncommon for the two learners to become very close friends as well as teachers and learners respectively.

One of the benefits to the “one-on-one” language exchange model is the program is much more conducive to electronic communication than is group instruction, essentially allowing two learners from opposite ends of the globe to meet regularly through email, instant messaging and video chat.

The obvious disadvantage to a one-on-one approach is the program is limited to only two teachers/learners instead of many. This tends to limit the amount of activities that can be performed and may not be completely representative of the language(s) that are being taught and learned.

Group Language Exchange

In group language exchange, several people meet together, some of which speak one language and some the other (usually 50-50), to conduct group discussions and participate in group activities, all designed to learn the other’s language. In other words, using the same example as above, a group language exchange with 10 participants would likely have 5 individuals from Mexico and 5 from France who meet regularly to participate in the program. Like one-on-one instruction, the activities are usually part of an overall lesson plan designed by the language exchange coordinator.

The advantage to a group language exchange is that it allows participants the opportunity to learn from several people at once. For example, in a group dialogue learners can hear various people speak the language on a single topic, both male and female, and a larger group usually translates to more discussion and longer dialogues. This repetition and the longer sessions can lead to increased comprehension.

Naturally, the group setting is not very conducive to electronic communication, as it is much more difficult to coordinate such activities when many people are involved. And while the group method can also lead to lifelong friendships, it tends to be much less intimate than one-on-one instruction, as people tend to be a bit more inhibited in a group setting.

Whether you decide to pursue one-on-one instruction, with increased opportunities for electronic communication, or a group setting, with more teachers/learners and more discussion, it is clear that the language exchange model is an excellent vehicle for achieving total fluency in another language and a much more beneficial alternative when compared to the often ineffective method of traditional direct instruction.

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