Studies in education have shown that immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language, but not everyone has the luxury of spending time abroad. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to practice your language skills with a native speaker Ė from the comfort of your home.
The Internet has opportunities for you to meet a foreign pen pal in various ways: snail mail, email, chat, Skype and even in person, if you are sure that itís safe. Some Web sites allow you to create a personality profile that describes your abilities and needs. In this case, you can establish a mutually beneficial correspondence with someone who wants to learn your native language as well, splitting your time together between speaking a foreign language and your native language. Also, by browsing through other members' profiles, you can find a safe connection with someone whose interests are similar to your own (helpful when looking for conversation topics).
Todd Bryant, the academic technology liaison to the foreign language departments at Dickinson College, founded the Mixxer, a language exchange site where students and teachers use Skype to communicate.
"These 'language exchanges' are very common in Europe, especially Germany, where I studied," says Bryant. "At European universities, they often have the luxury of being able to meet in person for the exchanges due to the large number of international students and students who speak more than one language natively. It's obviously much harder in the U.S., especially for a smaller school not located in a big city. I created the Mixxer as a way to find language learners from around the world, who were interested in doing a language exchange via Skype."
With almost 12,000 members, the Mixxer has received positive feedback from users. Bryant has a few tips to help you get started with a language exchange.
When you contact someone the first time, be clear on meeting details. How often do you want to meet? For how long? When?
Be super polite. It's easy to misunderstand each other when you're speaking in a foreign language. Saying "please" and "thank you" more often than usual can be a big help.
When you do the exchange, especially if youíre a beginner, have questions ready beforehand. That will help the conversation move along.
Here are some sites to help you learn a new language, at the same time that you teach someone else.
My Language Exchange
Search the member database to find a native speaker, and chat with them online. Also, use one of the free lesson plans to get you started.
Use the Members Search tool, where you can search for language partners using different criteria. Try a public or private chat, or start an email exchange.
Create a profile to find a partner, and chat online with audio and video.
Browse through members to find a partner, and share and receive tips from this language community.
Sign in and search members through the internal email system, so your personal email address remains private. Arrange a time to meet in the video/audio enabled chat room or use Skype to communicate. Also, create blogs and flashcards or share your ideas in a forum.