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Language Exchanges: How to Learn Languages Abroad on the Cheap

Find Free Options to More Expensive Classes

These days one can find language schools or private lessons everywhere abroad, but both options can be relatively expensive for some. There are cheaper alternatives that just aren’t as obvious or convenient as classes. We strongly recommend homestays if you are open to living with a local family, but if you wish to have more control over your time and schedule while you are traveling, then language exchanges are a great way to stay in many cities and countries—Spain being one of the most developed historically in this form of learning.

Language Exchanges Offer Full Cultural Immersion

Language exchanges are free opportunities for learning that are either advertised online, available through expatriate sites such as, found in Facebook groups or other social media hubs, or in the classified section of many English publications in metropolitan areas. The number of such dedicated websites and virtual social communities around the world is increasing daily. Intercambios are a favorite way to exchange language knowledge in Spain and are very effective due to the inherently immersive environment.

Some language exchange groups get together for dinners; others have specific themes for discussion. A few group exchanges are less focused on the language than on gathering locals and foreigners for networking, making friends, and having good times! Both of these styles of group exchanges are good exercises in fluency and practicing the language skills you already know. Neither one-on-one nor group exchanges require any planning or paper and pens. They can be a great way to relax, socialize, and build your language skills at the same time.

Do Your Part to Share with Others

For an individual language exchange, you first need to contact a partner, either by placing an ad yourself or by responding to one. To prepare and if you have little of the language to draw upon, you can use an online translation program or use many of the new free or low-cost online websites and apps that work on the web, tablets, and smartphones to teach you language basics, such as grammar. If you have a TV, radio, streaming audio/video, or have access to a cinema, watch and listen, as you will pick up some of the language unconsciously even if you do not understand everything and therefore be more prepared for your meeting. Try to read the newspaper, go out and listen to conversations at cafes, decipher signs, go to restaurants and cafes. Finally, when arranging an initial meeting, don’t choose somewhere too busy or big, wear something distinguishing, and if possible exchange a picture by email or shared social media.

Many people don’t prepare anything for these initial meetings and keep them “conversational,” but knowing the goals and expectations of your exchange is important to ensure that you complement each other’s needs and style. Bring ideas and materials such as articles, music, links to videos clips that can be watched and discussed together to future meetings. Imagine your appreciation if your exchangee brought a local article written about your home country and helped you read it, thus revealing to you an extra-cultural perspective on your home. Again, exchange is all about sharing, and the more you share, the more you will receive and the more quickly you will be understanding and speaking the language at little to no cost.

Sign Up for Free Class

The concepts of TEFL training have long been migrating to the teaching of other languages, and in most metropolitan areas people are making short-term jobs or longer careers of teaching their own language. These teacher training schools need students to practice on. Look up local teacher training schools on the web using your favorite search engine. Also, check the local periodicals in both English and the local language. Calling or visiting the school is the best way to get the information on these courses. Most of the courses run for a month and average 7-10 hours per week of instruction. You will have to write an assessment exam or undergo an interview for placement purposes.

The courses are a mixed bag—inevitably so when everyone is a student. But even frustrating lessons provide exposure to the language. Take an active role; be bold and make mistakes.

Related Topics
Language Study Abroad
Living in Spain as an Expat

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