In my post about my fall goals (here), I mentioned that my main goal was to find a language exchange partner this fall. Even though I’ve made several pretty-close Korean friends, I never established any sort of “language exchange”-like relationship with them, we just hang out and study and eat food together.
There is plenty of Korean speaking and English speaking that goes on when we all hang out, but I admittedly speak very little Korean to them. When I do speak Korean, it’s usually just one or two words at a time, and those one or two words are usually a translation for an English word that they don’t know.
My minimal Korean speaking is completely my fault–I think I subconsciously don’t want to lower their opinions of my Korean skills by trying to fumble my way through complete sentences or, God forbid, a whole conversation! Which is rather silly, considering that one of my main reasons for wanting to meet Korean friends was to practice my speaking skills…
While I’m sure my friends would be more than happy to occasionally meet up and help me with my Korean speaking skills, I decided that I might as well look for an official language partner on italki.
Italki is a website designed to help people learn a foreign language. Once you register for an account, you can either pay for individualized tutoring sessions from professional or community teachers, or you can find a language exchange partner for free. (There are other features of the site, but those are the most important two as far as I’m concerned.) Since I’m a broke graduate student, and I’m more interested in a language exchange anyway, I focused more on the latter service.
Over several days, I looked at people’s profiles and sent messages to several girls until I finally got a response back. We exchanged Skype information, and the following night we had our first language exchange session.
My LE partner was really nice, and we chatted for about an hour and a half in a mixture of Korean and English. She then suggested that we have LE sessions every night at that time. My first reaction was “who on earth has time to do this every single night?!?!”, but after I thought about it for a moment, I realized that I could probably spare an hour out of my day every day for the sake of learning Korean, and that if it was too much, we could always reduce the amount of sessions later. So I just went with the flow and agreed.
It’s been a couple of weeks since then, and I worried for no reason. There have been plenty of days where we have cancelled our LE session for some reason or another–she visited her family for Chuseok, and some nights I had too much homework or was out studying with friends. Still, we’ve had about 10 Skype sessions, ranging from 1 hour to almost 3 hours in length.
When I briefly had a language exchange partner in Seoul last year, we structured our LE sessions so that we spoke for 1 hour in Korean and then 1 hour in English, which worked out well.
This language exchange has been a bit different. We both collect any questions that we have about our target language, or we bring an interesting slang-y phrase from our native language to share. Initially my LE partner had the idea that she would exclusively speak in English, and I would exclusively speak in Korean, but that didn’t last very long. When we were answering each other’s questions, we would usually find ourselves giving lots of examples of how to use certain grammar structures/phrases, which resulted in our using a lot of our native language.
However, my partner is currently on break from her college studies to exclusively study English, while I’m currently simultaneously taking a full-time load as a graduate student. This means that the majority of her time is focused on English, whereas I only can study Korean in my spare time, so she always ends up have a lot more English questions than my Korean questions, which means that recently these LE sessions have also been very English-dominated.
I sincerely want to improve my Korean speaking, so I’m going to have to make some adjustments. I’m always tempted to slip into English to explain anything, but I’m going to make an effort to explain everything in Korean and only use English for the sample sentences. I’m also going to make an effort to share more stories about interesting things that happen during my day in Korean. Since I usually have fewer Korean questions, I need to be creative about the ways I can incorporate Korean into our sessions.
If these ideas don’t work, I might suggest a structure more similar to my last language exchange, with a set amount of time for each target language. That way I will definitely get my share of Korean-speaking in each session.
For my readers who have experience with language exchange partners–how did you organize your language exchange sessions?