Language barriers can be discouraging in the beginning of your time in a foreign country, and can feel like a hindrance to understanding new places and beginning new relationships. But overcoming these barriers through language exchange with a local native speaker is an enjoyable and fruitful adventure!
Language exchange is growing in popularity, especially in a city like Florence, where there's a large American student population. Local Italian students are just as eager to learn our language as we are to learn Italian, given the ever-increasing demand for English language fluency in the world. It's a great opportunity for all who participate.
Conversation exchange typically involves two people, you and your language “partner.” You start by asking questions; your partner may or may not understand you, but that's okay. A lack of response prompts the additional use of gestures, facial expressions and intonation to supplement your efforts. Once gestures and body language come into play—objects are pointed to, phrases acted out, expressions drawn on napkins or notepads—the process goes beyond mere words and learning becomes truly tangible. Conversation exchange highlights the versatile nature of communication, and what you learn in these “lessons” tends to really stick because the learning is interactive and dynamic.
A language exchange will also start meaningful friendships that shape your experience in a new environment. Getting to know a local person provides unique insight into your host culture and enhances your journey. Language partners don't have to be of the same background, nationality, or age—or even speak the same language!—to be able to communicate and learn from each other. It's a challenge, but also a priceless opportunity. Make sure to try it when visiting or studying in a foreign country.
Marissa Knox was a Florence Fall 2010 student from the University of California - Davis.
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