‘Extreme’ language exchanges

Language exchange trips have been popular for many years, but usually involve spending only a few weeks in a foreign country. For example, I took part in a language exchange with a French lad while at school which involved me spending three weeks with his family in France, and him spending three weeks in the UK with my family. I also spent two weeks with a family in Germany, and a month with a family in Austria.

According to The Independent, the latest trend is for children between 9 and 13 to spend six months in a foreign country, staying with a family and going to a local school. Even if they don’t know the local language at all at first, they’re usually fluent in it after six months.

The exchanges discussed in the article were arranged by En Famille International, a French company set up in 1978, and are available in Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the UK. One perennial problem they have is a lack of English-speaking families willing to participate in the exchanges.

9 thoughts on “‘Extreme’ language exchanges

  1. I don’t know if this is a new trend actually, but I remember many people here send their kids (through specific programs) to the UK to live with a family for a month or so and learn the language. I think most of them go to Scotland. And it is still continued as far as I know.

  2. When I was at school in London in the ’80s it was very unusual for British students to go on exchanges. We were told that it would interrupt our education – I think the Powers That Be were missing the point somewhat. It was extremely frustrating, as it seemed perfectly normal for students from continental Europe to come to the UK on exchange.

  3. When I was in high school, in Indiana in the US, every year we had a handful of international students who came on exchange for half a year up to a whole year. They weren’t real “exchanges” since the families who hosted these students didn’t actually send their own kids abroad. We had mostly people from Europe but also from Japan. I wished back then that I knew where to apply for such an opportunity. Seems pretty common nowadays.

  4. My family hosted a South Korean foreign exchange student for a whole year (a little over a whole school year, actually, so about 10 months). I didn’t know anything about Korea before I met him. Despite all his consumption of American media, he learned something new constantly. He shattered innumerous preconceptions I had about East Asians and taught me and my family so much about Korea. For instance, in Korea, new residents in a neighborhood or in an aparment are expected to give food to the current residents. In the USA, it is the opposite. If not for him, I would have never known a local Korean foodstore prepared fresh daily some delicious kimbap. I wouldn’t even have known that the foodstore was Korean.

  5. One problem I found when we had a German boy stay with us to learn English was that although my family spoke English of course, the language of the family was Welsh. It was very unnatural for us to speak English with each another for the benefit of the German. In the end I think we continued to speak Welsh to each another with English to the German and maybe some English when the German kid (who was very nice) was in the room or was someway assoicated with the conversation.

    So, Germans came to Wales (or England as they saw it) and were confronted with this new language which they knew nothing about. I’m not willing to change my family’s language but I understand that they want the full ‘English’ experience. I’m sure a similar situation could happen with a family from the Indian subcontinent but living in London.

  6. @Macsen,
    That reminds me of people going to Catalonia to learn Spanish, which is what I did. I actually went there just because that is where my girlfriend is from. I had the intention of using my visits to learn Spanish as of course everyone there can speak Spanish (as everyone in Wales can speak English). The people there really tried hard to only speak Spanish to me and even to try to talk in Spanish between themselves when I was there, but I soon saw that it just wasn’t natural for them and was very difficult for them to keep up. From then on, I use my visits to learn and practice Catalan, it is a much simpler solution for me and them also 😉

  7. My daughter (14) is goin’to Lille (Rijssel in Flamish) for a language exchange, next month.

  8. To echo Jim Morrison’s comments above I lived in Catalonia for a year in 1988 and found it difficult to improve my already good Spanish. No big deal and incidently, I gained a good grounding in Catalan. However, I felt sorry for the two modern languages students from highly respected English universities spending their year abroad there- they found it near impossible to improve their modest Spanish. What could their universities have been thinking! Didn’t they realise Catalan (rightly) rules in Catalonia?

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