▲ Artistic illustration of language exchange. Provided by blog.educalab.es.
While a vast majority of Korean people study English for more than 10 years, a meager five percent of all Koreans are able to communicate fluently in the language. The same goes for other foreign languages they learn during their primary education years such as Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish. Just last year, according to an open survey, a not-so-surprising 75.8 percent of Korean people in their 20s to 30s were still studying a foreign language. This shows that Korean people are dissatisfied with their linguistic abilities and toil to improve themselves in such areas. One tried and true method of learning a foreign language—language exchange—is getting a second wind these days.
There are countless ways in which people can acquire a new language, but one of the best would be actually conversing with a native speaker. Through listening to how a native speaker talks in a language, one can grasp distinct characteristics, and the native speaker can correct flaws such as pronunciation, grammar, or intonation. Imagine if this worked both ways. That would save a lot of time and energy would it not? Add shared interests and intelligent conversation and the result would be doubly satisfactory.
Playground—Hongdae is a popular rooftop café/bar that holds weekend parties and weekday dinners where people of all nationalities and backgrounds can participate in language exchange programs. Playground is a good example of the growing trend in language exchange nowadays.
Playground hosts a variety of international language exchange activities such as meetings, after-work networking parties, flea markets, and special lectures. Its goal is to promote equal opportunities for everyone to exchange their native language in a friendly and fun environment where everyone can just be themselves and make new friends. Its atmosphere contrasts with that of academies where language is taught one way—from teacher to student. It is a venue where no matter what nationality, gender, and age they may be, anyone can share their culture, language, and vice versa.
▲ Artistic illustration of language exchange. Provided by vivrelinternational.blogspot.kr.
Kim, Myungho, the author of Everyday English for SNS and Real Life, runs the Facebook page for Playground. He said, “The best part of our meetings is the human relationships that come out of them.” He added, “People who were afraid of foreign languages or foreigners get over their fear through these meetings. It’s the times when they come by to show their gratitude when I feel it is most worthwhile.”
He also mentioned that foreigners who were previously having a hard time adjusting to Korea made new friends and found a meaningful way to spend their time. He said he feels great joy when foreigners come to him and tell him that Playground’s programs made their stay in Korea enjoyable and worthwhile.
Another such café is the Language Exchange Café (Gangnam / Hongdae / Hyehwa). The café’s meeting venues change from time to time. Despite that, it is still the biggest language exchange community in Korea, having 13,026 members as of September. It hosts language exchange programs six days a week, Friday being the exception. At every meeting, from 50 to more than 100 people of diverse nationalities gather at a café booked for them. They host language exchanges for Korean, Japanese, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and many other speakers, and welcome all to join.
Language exchange cafés programs, and bars might sound inviting to many people, but for those who are a bit too shy or too busy, there is no need to fret because there is wide variety of online language exchange opportunities. With today’s information technology (IT), people can connect from virtually every part of the globe with a couple of clicks. Online language exchange programs have existed ever since the Internet went mainstream. More recently, many smartphone applications that offer online language exchange programs have become available.
HelloTalk Language Exchange, ePenpal – SNS, Snail Mail, and Peoplegate: new foreign friends are just a few examples of smartphone applications that make access to language exchange programs just a few taps away. These applications connect people from as many as 200 countries that speak almost 100 different languages—who all share one thing in common—that they want to share their own languages, learn new ones, and make new friends in the process.
One thing to beware of when participating in language exchange is to make sure commitment to the program is the same for all parties. Sadly, it is easy to find many people complaining that their language exchange turned out to be one-sided. For example, if one wished to learn Korean while teaching English, they may get drawn into teaching English even though they pay for the program and learn nearly nothing from it. Before participating, check for reviews of previous users and do some research on language exchanges to avoid scams or disappointments.
With enough preparations and research, language exchange can be a great learning opportunity where participants do not just stop at learning a new language but also get to know new people and cultures. Language exchange itself is a reflection of Korea’s open-minded generation today. It shows how much people value their own culture and how interested they are in others. Why not visit some websites and applications for more information and participate in language exchange programs today?
▲ Scene of language exchange. Provided by lusu.co.uk