I recently posted about finding language helpers online, offering a host of resources and ideas for finding a language helper. Another great opportunity for language learners is the more simple language exchange – a meeting of two language learners who agree to spend half of their allotted time in each language. This works nicely as it not only helps each party get to know a native speaker, but is also a free way to get much needed practice and feedback in the target language. There are a lot of ways to go about finding a language exchange partner, but one site that I recently came across is The Mixxer. Created by Todd Bryant and Akiko Meguro of Dickenson College in the States, Mixxer is a free social networking site dedicated to helping language learners meet one another. If you are a teacher, they also focus on helping classrooms meet one another. I recently contacted Dr. Bryant who graciously offered to answer a few questions about the site. Check out The Mixxer today. I think it could be a great addition to anyones language learning.
In 200 words or less, what exactly is The Mixxer?
The Mixxer is a social networking site designed for connecting language learners for exchanges via Skype. The site has many of the same functionalities as Facebook with profiles, blogs, friend requests, and a messaging system; however, what makes it different is that users are searching for potential language partners based on their native language and the language they are studying. Once they have found a potential partner, they then send a message proposing times to meet and eventually communicate via Skype. Though not required, the usual arrangement is to meet for an hour with each person spending 30 minutes in their native language and 30 minutes in their target language.
The Mixxer includes functions for foreign language teachers as well. Teachers can search for other teachers interested in doing class-to-class exchanges. They can organize and oversee their students’ blog posts. In addition, they can also organize “events” where native speakers are invited to contact students in their class via Skype at a specific time. Because of the size of the Mixxer, it is now possible for any language teacher to organize a language exchange for their students at almost any time. This is especially helpful for less commonly taught languages in Asia and the Middle East where time differences make most traditional class-to-class exchanges very difficult.
How did the idea for Mixxer come about?
The idea for the project grew from the collaboration of myself, the language technologist at Dickinson College, and a Japanese instructor, Akiko Meguro. Professor Meguro had heard of text chat exchanges done here at the college via NetMeeting between an intermediate French class and an English class in France. However, there were several obstacles toward replicating the same project in Japanese. She needed the exchanges to be verbal because of the complexity of the writing system in Japanese for beginners, and it would nearly impossible to connect with another actual class in Japan due to the time difference and semester schedules. We decided it would be easier to invite individual Japanese interested in English to contact our class. The Mixxer site in the beginning was little more than a searchable database of language learners.
What is the number one benefit a language learner will gain from using Mixxer?
The benefit depends on the user. For individual learners, the opportunity to practice speaking is invaluable. For students already in a formal class, the motivation of knowing you’ll be using the language on a regular basis is key as well. Hopefully, these exchanges lead to lifelong learning that continues beyond the classroom.
What excites you about the future of Mixxer?
I’m hoping to have more and more universities integrate language exchange activities as part of their curriculum. The number of open content textbooks resources at places such as Connexions, Open Learning Initiative, Global Text Project, MIT’s OpenCourseware and other locations are growing, but there are still relatively few language textbooks. Once there are a few standard textbooks, we can look at modifying them slightly to add activities involving language exchanges. Hopefully this will greatly increase the number of learners who have regular contact with native speakers.
Outside of Mixxer, what is the number one thing the everyday language learner can do to help themselves learn another language?
I’m a big proponent of TV and movies, especially now that it’s so easy to find stuff for free on the internet. Watch shows and movies with which you’re generally familiar and take notes of new words or grammar that you don’t recognize. It will also give you a starting point for the next conversation with your language partner.
The Mixer Website: http://www.language-exchanges.org
The FAQ Page: http://www.language-exchanges.org/content/faq
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