We’d all wish having language exchanges were more straight-forward, but unless you’re naturally charming or charismatic, and you natively speak a very popular language, then it’s going to be a steep learning curve, but it’s worth it!… or not. I wrote this piece as a complement to my Guide to Finding Language Exchange Partners to help you determine whether you would benefit more from having language exchanges or simply paying a teacher for language lessons.
If you follow the advice in the guide above, you will find language exchange friends. However, some of you reading may prefer to hire a teacher who is going to focus all his or her energy and time on your learning, given the effort it takes to find good language friends.
Paying a teacher is also an exchange, but unlike language exchange where you exchange time (yours) for time (somebody else’s), you are exchanging your money for a teacher’s time.
I’m going to list the major differences between having language exchange friends and hiring a teacher. Keep in mind that I will in no way try to convince you to take either route (I actually think they are complementary), I’m going to be as unbiased as I can possibly be:
- Both are paid: even though it may seem like language exchange is “free”, it really isn’t, unless you expect your language friends to teach you their languages without you teaching them your language in return, such a mindset is completely incompatible with language exchange, and doesn’t even qualify as an “exchange” as per the word’s definition.
Language exchange is free in that you don’t have to pay for it with money, but you still have to pay for it with time.
Whatever you prefer, exchanging time for time, or money for time, is completely up to you.
- Quality of exchange: whether you pay a teacher for language lessons or prefer having language exchanges, nothing guarantees you’ll be satisfied with the exchange: maybe the quality of the lessons of the teacher you picked don’t live up to the price they charge, or maybe your exchange friend doesn’t really give much of a crap whether they are helping you learn or not. To reduce the probabilities that you end up unhappy, follow my advice on finding a good online language teacher and the advice laid out in this guide to find a good language partner.
- Time: having already pointed out how language exchanges are paid in time currency, I want to address two other ways in which time comes into play with language exchanges:
•Looking for the right people: going through a list of several profiles takes time even if you are following my advice.
While going through the different profiles, you’ll also want to read their intros to find out whether they’re worth your time or not. This isn’t exclusive to finding language friends, as it also applies to finding teachers but to a smaller degree.
•Finding a common time where you’re both available: believe me, this is a thing.
For a large percentage of people, it all boils down to money, they figure that since they don’t have to pay money to have a language exchange, it’s well worth the effort but it’s that exact people for whom, in my opinion, language exchange isn’t right.
Now, for the ones like me, for which learning a language is the most important in a language exchange but also enjoy talking to people from other cultures and making friends, language exchanges are without question the best option, even if it takes time to find one good language friend.
To illustrate my point, I’ll use my good friend Janette as an example. Janette doesn’t really exist but she still wants to learn a language.
Janette was offered a promotion at the multinational corporation she works for that will put her at the head of their German office (way to go girl!). However, Janette doesn’t speak German at all, so she needs to learn it to take the promotion, she doesn’t care about cultural exchange or making friends, she only wants to learn the language as quickly as possible.
Janette makes $30/hour, when she looked through the several German teacher profiles on italki, she concluded that she didn’t want to pay for private lessons that range from $10 to $50 and preferred to have language exchanges so she could save what it would cost her to pay for a teacher.
While at first thought trying to “save” money may seem the best option, this will really depend on everyone’s particular situations.
In the case of Janette, she makes $30/hour, she also read my awesome guide on how to find a good language teacher on italki. For $30 she could have 3 30-minute trial lessons (most are no more than $10), after that, any 1 hour lesson that is no more than $30 would be more convenient for her than doing language exchange.
Let me explain why.
If each lesson is $30 and she makes that much by working an hour at her job, then it may seem that she saves $30 for every hour she doesn’t pay a teacher but has language exchanges instead, but she is only breaking even as the exchange is 50/50 so for every hour she spends speaking German, she has to spend another hour speaking her native language in return which could be seen from a monetary point of view as “work” equating this to an extra hour she could have spent working at her job making back those $30 she spent with a teacher, thus breaking even.
Notice that in this example, the time spent looking for either a teacher or a language exchange partner has not been factored in.
In conclusion, any lesson that is less than $30 will be at a profit for Janette, and any over $30, will arguably be at a loss (again, it will depend on the personal factor).
As I previously said, you can complement taking lessons with a private teacher together with having exchanges. Remember that, ultimately, your own criteria and your particular situation will be the best determining factors for what you really need.