Tips on doing a conversation exchange?

A friend and I are meeting up to do a conversation exchange. We’re each fluent in a language the other person wants to learn so we figure we’ll practice in one language for a while and then practice in the other. Apart from that we didn’t really plan anything out.

Any advice on how to do this? Or how to prep for both the learning and the teaching? We’re both semi-beginners in our target languages with very little actual talking practice.
Thanks!

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I’ll be honest, when this is the case it can make conversation pretty challenging and awkward. Not much way around it.

Patience is important. Best to just go and speak slowly and clearly, even in your own native language, settle out any nerves. If they have little listening/speaking experience in your native language, even what feels like talking slowly for you will feel fast to them. If you see or sense them getting frustrated be nice, tell them it’s okay. 大丈夫

Maybe practice a little on your own. Think of little things to say or ask. “Again please” or “more slowly please” are good to know!

もう一度お願いします

もう少しゆっくり話してくれる?

Things like that

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There are actually benefits to doing a Skype or LINE exchange (instead of face-to-face) for these instances such as typing out corrections or screen sharing to help for communication breakdowns. I like reviewing my mistakes if my parters catches them and I can review them after the conversation.

Also, conversations are an improvisation so they can go in any direction sometimes. You may intend to keep it simple but we naturally want to explain in more complex depth so having some technological help can bridge the gap. Good luck!

BTW, even if semi-beginner and want some ideas, at least be prepared to explain a personal story in Japanese to introduce who you are, what you do, why you study, etc. Even if they know it already, they can help you practice as it’s super practical for the future (they can do the same in their practice language).

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Thanks to both kimera and the two replies. I was wondering when I should start trying out real conversation with real people - and the advice confirms my feeling that I should wait a bit longer. Incidentally, making up conversations in Japanese in your head when you’re trying to go to sleep works way better than counting sheep :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Some things that have worked for me are:

  • Having a defined time for each language. For example, if the conversation exchange is an hour long, split the time fifty-fifty on the same day or alternate which language will be the focal point each meeting.

  • Have the native speaker always stay in the target language. This puts the burden of staying on track with the learner. So if the learner requests a lifeline, one can be given. This is really important because there’s a lot to be learned from trying figure out the meaning of things. If the native speaker always throws out the answer before the learner can at least think about the meaning (etc.), a learning opportunity can be lost.

  • Because you’re both not so proficient in the other person’s language, be sure to review any suggestions or corrections and supply an explanation (if possible).

  • Speaking of correction, ask each other about how to handle this. Additionally, avoid possible incorrect correction by waiting until the speaker finishes their thought. Often, interrupting in the middle of the thought is disruptive and can cause the speaker to lose their train of thought. This is why @s1212z’s suggestion about doing conversations online makes this task convenient; it allows the listener to type in a correction without needing to stop the speaker in the midst of their thoughts.

  • Preparing topics and questions in advance makes for a smoother conversation. How you would want to organize that (e.g., whose responsibility it is to make questions or bring up topics, etc.) is up to you.

  • Have both parties take notes of vocabulary or grammar used in conversation for the learner to take home and study afterward. What I mean by this is writing down words or phrases the learner didn’t know or misused. Again, using this on an online app is easiest for everyone because on a chat thread everything is recorded as shared information so there might something even the native speaker would want to remember as well.

  • Lastly, don’t be afraid to table something pending some investigation. You’ll get challenging questions you may not know the answers to. An initial search on the spot might open a Pandora’s box that will take a chunk of time to figure out. In which case, it’s best to tell the learner the answer after the native speaker has figured out how to curate and explain something outside of the meeting time. Doing this is up to you, but I think that spending a lot of time on the spot researching something complex wastes a lot of time that could be spent speaking.

There are other things that could be in this list, but they haven’t come to mind.

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I have found that generally things work best for me if all corrections come at the end. As long as the native speaker can generally understand what the non-native is trying to say, then just taking a note about the correction and addressing it later maintains the fluidity of the conversation. If the native can’t understand what the non-native means, then pausing to drill down on it becomes necessary, but I think maintaining the flow is the best target.

It also keeps the corrections limited to just the most important things. If the non-native forgot to use the right conjugation 1 time, but they did it right 9 other times, they probably just slipped up and don’t need an explanation there. But if they repeatedly used a word unnaturally, that should be addressed.

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I think the important parts have been covered, but maybe I can reiterate somethings.

Firstly, my strong opinion with apologies but:

No!!! you should not wait longer, you should be conversing asap. If it scares the hell out of you now, all the more reason. Good language exchanging is so valuable.
But you need the right partner and a good mindset yourself, so there may be poor initial steps, but you’ll get there.

That the learner is a super beginner doesn’t have to be hell.

I’m sorry again for the strong opinion but I really disagree - the challenge is to keep face (not that hard with some practice) and the awkwardness is only if you take it too seriously and lose face.

Structure to your meeting is really important, and best to agree on in advance.
I can really recommend meeting for a set time (say 2 hours), splitting that in half and strictly conversing in the target language only.
2nd structure point is conversation time followed by language advice/correction time. The proficient speaker should listen and seive out the bigger language difficulties that repeat during the conversation. Flow is so important, and corrections shouldn’t be made until a safe “correction time” later. It’s a tough job for the proficient speaker because they have to multitask: leading the conversation in most cases, keeping face and supporting the learner whilst still making it realistically challenging, even incorporating elements of SRS into the conversation, and then tracking the learners overall “performance” to isolate the more important points to feedback on with advice/correction later. Like anything, if you do a good job for them, hopefully they’ll return the favour.

Topic wise, you’ll need something, but on the other hand learning benefits from a sense of spontenIety. And in that, keeping face is one important thing, but keeping it fun is even more important. This is one point on why the particular partner is important, because a shared sense of fun works best, but like any partner sometimes you can’t click, it’s nobody’s fault necessarily, you move on with the conversation or move on with a new partner.

Probably I wrote way too much, but I hope you have a good exchange.

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Very good points. I just got home from a short (5 week) study abroad experience and while I adored my host family, the mom was overly “helpful” in that she would compete sentences/conjugations for me when she thought I was taking too long. I certainly learned less without the struggle of finding the answer on my own.

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Thank you folks for all the advice. (And sorry for taking so long to reply, it’s been a long week.)

It went well for a first time I think? We’re both fluent in a third language (English), which made it easy to explain grammar points or ask for a missing word … but also easy to get distracted into talking about language instead of actually speaking it.

A lot of repeating sentences very slowly, asking about words we didn’t understand, then trying to use that word in the conversation. (Also I’m ashamed that I didn’t recognize 発音 when spoken even though WaniKani has been quizzing me on it all week!)

@Hoshinobike I really like your point about keeping face, hadn’t thought about that! If both people are learners, then you also need to help the other person keep face and not be ashamed to make mistakes in front of you.
(And yes, we did have fun!)

@s1212z @Leebo - Good idea about using Skype/Line to type corrections and giving a summary at the end. (Though I think both people should decide in advance how much the session will focus on teaching and correction versus just straight out trying to communicate however you can.)

@jerseytom @LucasDesu - Thank you both for the teaching advice. (BTW we were really bad about staying in the target language…) I like the rule about the native speaker always staying in-language and letting the learner be the one to switch when they need help.

Good idea, should’ve done that. I’m jotting down the stuff that I remember right now, will email it to my friend later.

Some notes for next time (and tips anyone else who wants to do this):

  • make sure the location is quiet (we didn’t realize how popular this place would be during lunch hour!)
  • don’t mix food and conversation, if you’re going to eat then do a social lunch and practice afterwards over coffee.
  • come up with a couple of pre-arranged topics so we can prep vocab in advance.
  • explicitly agree on the target-language-only rule cuz that was a big issue.
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(Excuse the double post - my previous one was pretty long and this really deserves its own space.)

(can we do nested quotes? I think we can do nested quotes?)

Seconding @Hoshinobike here, definitely start talking as soon as possible!

There’s a reason why the first lesson you get in language classes are rote phrases like “Hello” “How are you?” “Pleased to meet you!” “My name is…” – before you learn the grammar to understand how they’re put together. Teacehrs do that so you can start interacting with other people from day 1.

@Ollieb if shyness is the main problem, find another beginner and take turns saying はじめまして at each other, or point at things and ask あれは何ですか?Whatever you got to do to get comfortable “performing” Japanese in front of another person and doing two-way communication.

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Thank you for the encouragement. I’ll “just do it!!”

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