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Want to maximise progress? Do an exchange.

The classroom is a good place for beginners to learn a second language. The teacher can control the content, simplify language, use the mother tongue where necessary to help things along. By the time a student has reached a good intermediate level they can benefit greatly from an immersion experience to maximise the language input they receive. Language acquisition is all about the input!

The exchange is a tried and tested way of providing students with a (relatively inexpensive)week or two of full or part immersion and if language teachers are serious about providing the best conditions for progress they should seriously consider making an exchange available to as many students as possible. If you have run an exchange or taken part in one as a student you will know how much of a boost it gives to the language learning process.

Exchanges do not always run perfectly smoothly, but if care is taken over getting the right school, over matching students by age and interests, and if staff do their best to build up relationships with parents and colleagues, the rewards are great and measurable. My experience over many years was that the most apparent gain is in listening skill, with exchange pupils raising their scores significantly. More importantly, a positive attitude to learning ensues* and classroom tasks take on a greater significance as students realise their learning has a point.

Teachers also gain by improving their language skills and by building up friendships and greater knowledge of the target language culture.

To me, therefore, it has always seemed obvious that for a student to achieve their best they need to get to the target language country. Any minor improvements we make to the classroom experience pale into insignificance when compared to the benefits of living abroad.

Impossible to organise an exchange? Then how about a study week abroad (much more expensive, less immersion, so less good) or an immersion week in school?


 * Dulay, Burt and Krashen refer to the "affective filter" which can seriously limit a student's progress. Put simply, students have to be motivated and want to learn for acquisition to take place.

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