I remember how irrationally nervous I was the first time I planned a one-on-one language exchange in Spanish.
I don’t want to underplay how nervous I felt. I was short of breath and my heart was racing.
The situation put me in flight or fight mode. I wasn’t thinking about Spanish words. I was only thinking about running!
Of course, the situation wasn’t at all life-threatening. It just felt that way.
And, if your goal is to be conversational in Spanish, then at some point you need to start conversing with real people too.
But, you don’t have to find a language exchange, you could also practise with a Spanish teacher or in a Spanish classroom.
In this post, I’m going to examine a key question you will have to ask yourself if you want to take your Spanish to the next level:
- Should I find a Spanish teacher, classroom or Spanish friend?
I’m going to compare these three options and how each can help you with your Spanish.
My first every language exchange
The plan was to meet up with a guy from Barcelona that had been living in Australia for nine months.
We met up in the centre of town, we walked through the park, we then checked out an art gallery and later sat down for a coffee.
After surviving the exchange, I felt great. In the end, it turned out he was kind, patient and eager to help.
Looking back, the decision to find a language exchange was a really important one in my language learning journey.
Despite the fears that arose from speaking in a language I wasn’t comfortable with, with a person I wasn’t comfortable with, my Spanish abilities and confidence grew a lot after these interactions.
The experience reminded me of a cruel, yet almost universal rule—the more uncomfortable you feel, the more you stand to gain.
As harsh as that sounds, you can use this rule as a guide to improve your Spanish.
I recently wrote about what it takes to create a perfect language routine. Part of finding a perfect routine is practising in a way that will help you achieve your goals as fast as possible.
Time vs cost vs quality
I’m going to examine the central question in the article through the lens of an adage that has been drilled into me!
A mentor of mine, from the time I spent in the construction industry, used to tell me over and over that everything comes down to a balance of ‘time-cost-quality’.
The idea of ‘time-cost-quality’ tells you that you cannot construct a building quickly, cheaply and with high quality.
You always have to sacrifice something.
You can build quickly and cheaply, but the quality is going to suffer. Or, you can build quickly and with high quality, but it is going to cost more. And so on.
This adage doesn’t just apply to buildings. It applies just as equally to getting fit, travelling the world, or learning a language.
When you embark on learning a language you have to decide how you are going to approach the task.
And this decision for you will have to come down to a balance of these factors.
When it comes to finding a teacher or a friend to practice with: How much time do you have? How much are you going to spend?
And, importantly, how good do you want to be?
*** Med Time – Med Cost – High Quality ***
I’ll admit that when I first started learning a language I tried to do everything by myself, and at minimum cost.
It wasn’t until I took my first Spanish class that I realised the big mistake I had been making.
I noticed a quick improvement in my abilities because I got exposed to new theory in a structured way, and I got instant feedback from the teacher and the other students when I tried to speak.
A common criticism of language learning classrooms is they don’t encourage enough interaction. This is only partly true.
The problem is there are (say) twenty students in a classroom and only one can talk at a time. Mostly it’s the teacher who speaks. Each student gets a turn to practice speaking but only in small bursts.
This is why classroom practice gets a medium for time. It takes a little bit longer but the costs are lower and the quality is high.
You will learn much faster in a classroom environment than you will on your own.
I have gained a lot from Spanish classrooms and I recommend them.
In fact, we created our own Spanish classroom. And, to help encourage individual practice, we have a rule of a maximum of 8 students per class plus we incorporate activities that can only be done individually.
In addition, a really great combination is a Spanish classroom for learning theory and a one-on-one tutor for practising speaking, which is what I recommend for most students. And, is what we will discuss next.
One-on-one teacher or tutor
*** Short Time – High Cost – High Quality ***
When you decide to go with a one-on-one teacher the costs go up.
You are now one person paying for one teacher, as opposed to eight people paying for one in a classroom.
Hiring a one-on-one tutor is the most expensive option. But, it is great for high-quality training because you will be getting personalised feedback. You will get to focus on your strengths and weaknesses and you will get ample opportunity to practise speaking.
Plus, as I mentioned in the previous section, one-on-one lessons can be a great supplement to a Spanish classroom to help consolidate and practice what you learnt in the classroom. We have many students in our Spanish school that are doing exactly this! (And I have used this combination in my Spanish journey too!)
Ideally, you should try to find a local tutor, someone you can practice with face-to-face. But, if you can’t do that, there are lot’s of great options online such as:
We also provide one-on-one lessons to students in our Spanish classes too.
Spanish language exchange or friend
*** Med Time – Low Cost – Med Quality ***
Instead of setting aside money for a one-on-one teacher, you could find a language exchange anywhere in the world.
Rather than trading cash for help with your Spanish, you can trade your time.
What this means is you can dedicate a portion of your time to helping someone improve his or her English, or any other language you can offer help with, and in exchange, they will help you with your Spanish.
Language exchanges are a beautiful way to connect and share with someone who is learning your language.
Moreover, communicating with someone in another language is what brings about the joy of language learning.
And, you can start doing this straight away. There is no need to wait.
This option has the benefit of low cost and med-quality practice because you will get personalised feedback. There is, of course, extra time involved, as you will now need to spend time correcting someone’s English. And, if the person you are speaking with isn’t a teacher, they may not be able to explain everything or use the language the way the majority of natives do. But, they can generally pick up your mistakes.
I have loved language exchanges because of the long-term friendships I have made as part of the process.
There is something about language learning that brings out the best in people. It’s why I love it so much!!
There is a vulnerability that comes with stammering through a new language. But, it’s this vulnerability that brings out the humanity in people on a similar journey to you.
When you meet someone in a language exchange, they’ll likely share similar challenges and goals. This shared journey will help forge long-term friendships that can be both a source of inspiration and accountability.
If you would like some tips for finding a language exchange check out this article.
My personal approach
My favourite option for building my conversational skills in Spanish (and other languages I have studied including French and Italian) has been to combine a classroom with language exchanges.
I love classrooms for the camaraderie and fun as well as accountability and structure.
I then love to take what I learn in the classroom and practise it in language exchanges.
All that said, I have also used one-on-one tutoring here and there when I was really short on time.
In the ‘time-cost-quality’ equation, which is the factor that you most want to control and which are happy to part with?
Language exchanges are a great way to practice, but you may not want to spend time explaining things about your native language.
If that is the case, a one-on-one tutor or Spanish classroom is the way to go.
Which do you prefer: a classroom, a language exchange or a teacher? Or do you prefer a combination?