Language Exchange unites students for one-on-one learning 

By Anna Sarkissian

The Concordia Language Exchange, initiated by Luis Ochoa (left) and Fabien Olivry, helps students find partners to practice languages ranging from Russian to Hindi. Magnifying glass

The Concordia Language Exchange, initiated by Luis Ochoa (left) and Fabien Olivry, helps students find partners to practice languages ranging from Russian to Hindi.

During a typical elevator ride at Concordia, you’re likely to be sandwiched in between students and teachers who speak a myriad of different languages.

“We see people from all over the world, but we can’t necessarily approach them,” says Luis Ochoa, a lecturer from Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics. Ochoa and Études françaises teacher Fabien Olivry have created the Concordia Language Exchange to pair up students who want to improve their language skills.

Through the Student Services link on the MyConcordia Portal, users can post messages in an online forum to find someone who speaks the language they want to learn and who wants to learn their language. Once they have a match, known as a “tandem,” the students decide where to meet, what to discuss, and so on. The goal is for them to spend half the time speaking one language and then switch. They can correct each other’s mistakes, practice their pronunciation and learn about each others’ cultures.

“Students are spread out all over campus so it’s easy to miss the ads on the bulletin boards from students seeking language partners,” Olivry says. They launched the site in mid-March to respond to the demand from their students. Using a centralized forum, students can create profiles, exchange emails, and find a partner with whom to practice their spoken Greek, Arabic, or Chinese. Currently, there are folders set up for students who want to practice one of 13 languages instructed at Concordia, but they can also seek out other languages.

Language exchanges are prevalent at universities throughout Europe, Olivry says, citing the European Commission’s eTandem Europa as a good example. eTandem has operated at more than 30 educational institutions since 1994, but focuses mostly on learning via electronic media.

“This is an ideal way to complement class instruction,” Olivry says. While language courses can teach students the fundamentals, teachers are often pressed for time when it comes to oral communication.

One-on-one interactions help students improve their fluency quickly. According to Ochoa, creating a tandem can help them overcome some of the anxiety associated with learning a new language. Often times, students are intimidated to speak up in class, so meeting with a peer can help them build confidence.

Language is not the only aspect of the exchange. “We consider that students are a source of culture,” Ochoa explains. While language courses are somewhat restricted in terms of subject matter, students set the agenda for their own meetings. They can easily become immersed in the other’s culture by learning about their food, music, or religion.

Olivry and Ochoa stress that the students are not “teaching” one another. In Olivry’s words, they are working together in a collaborative way.

Ochoa likens the exchange to riding a bicycle built for two. “After all, that’s what they’re doing,” he says. “The students are pedalling at the same time.”

To access the Concordia Language Exchange, students can log into the MyConcordia Portal, select Student Services and click the link for LangBBoard.


Concordia University