Having a successful language exchange

Exchanges vs Partners

If you live in a big city, you’ll most likely be able to find a language exchange event near you. You can search on Facebook events or on Meetup for language exchanges. The one I usually attend in Singapore is called Mundo Lingo. Mundo Lingo is an international language exchange event held in cities across the world. It’s a place I go to get language practice in, meet fellow language learners and build new friendships. It’s been wonderful getting practice in, but there are times I get tired or feel like the exchange hasn’t been helpful.

Unlike an event where many people mingle and practice together, having a language partner is a lot more personal and may or may not be face to face. You can meet a language exchange partner on an app like Tandem, HelloTalk or HiNative. I’ve also met partners on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook – just reach out to fellow learners or native speakers and see if there’s someone willing to practice with you.

A question I often get is “how can I get the most out of my language partner or exchange event?” Here are some things to keep in mind at exchanges or with language partners!

Practical tips

➡️ Communicate your expectations. Some people are only at events to make friends and I’ve experienced many who just keep talking in English even though we have multiple languages in common. It’s important to tell them you’d like to practice a language too!

➡️ Give and take. People often struggle with yielding languages. You want to practice your TL; your friend wants to practice theirs. You can set time limits and practice your TL for a while and then switch to practicing theirs. I find that many successful exchange events have language tables where you only speak one language per table.

➡️ Be open to corrections. Remember, we’re here to learn together! There’s no need to be embarrassed about making a mistake – that’s how we improve! (It’s always polite to ask someone if they’re OK with corrections before you interrupt or bombard them, though)

➡️ If they’re not serious, say bye. I’ve had a woman talk very ignorantly about South Africa to my face and she rambled on and on (in English). I soon realized she just wanted to debate useless things and wasn’t there for language practice at all. I politely excused myself and moved on to another group.

➡️ Schedule time. If you’re chatting to a language exchange partner online, it’s a good idea to set time in the week to intentionally practice with them (especially if you’re timezones apart).

Some pics of what it’s like at Mundo Lingo



Why did I move to Singapore?

I fell in love with Singapore in 2015.

When I was in university, I discovered The Sam Willows online. They’re a Singaporean band and I really enjoyed their music. That led me to discovering more Singaporean music, like LEW, Disco Hue, Jasmine Sokko, Sezairi, Charlie Lim and M1LDL1FE. A lot of you know music is often my reason for learning a new language or for falling in love with a new culture. (Here’s my Singaporean playlist on Spotify, by the way) After YouTubing around, I also discovered Singlish (Singaporean English, which is mixed with lots of Malay, Tamil, Chinese, Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien words). I thought it was the coolest concept ever. So multilingual and so versatile and expressive! I also started watching local Singaporean YouTubers and found the humor seriously hilarious. The more I watched Singaporean stuff, the more I fell in love with the language, accent and country.

After months of listening to a lot of Singaporean music and checking out the Singaporean design scene (online), I wanted to visit and see what the country would be like. At the start of my fourth year of university, I started casually looking for jobs and decided to visit some design agencies in Singapore on my way back from Japan in January 2016. I contacted some design agencies and arranged to visit their studios. My mom came with me and we had a short 5-day holiday.

To be brutally honest, it was not what I expected at all! The internet (and now, Crazy Rich Asians), makes Singapore seem like the most modern, clean, atas (Singlish for “posh”) city ever. In some areas, this is true. Marina Bay Sands is really as fancy as it seems online. However, overall, I found that Japan was a lot cleaner than Singapore! Some parts of Singapore reminded me of Pakistan too. I love hawker centers now (half-outdoor food courts with lots of different eateries, generally small stalls run by old people specializing in a specific dish or two), but the first time I saw a hawker center, I was put off by the smell of durian and fish. That being said, having lived in Pakistan for 3 and a half years, nothing scares me anymore! I think it was more of a “this is not what I expected” moment rather than it being a “this is gross” moment. I can’t get enough of hawker centers now!

My heart got broken in 2018.

That initial surprise, coupled with the humidity and constant rain at the time, somewhat put me off Singapore for a while. Until I met my (now-ex) boyfriend. He was Singaporean and before he became a terribly controlling, emotionally abusive person, I was absolutely swept off my feet by him. His Singaporean accent was the cutest thing ever, and I started having rosy feelings towards Singapore again. But then after I broke up with him, I didn’t want anything to do with Singapore anymore. I didn’t even want to hear the word Singapore, and I didn’t want to hear Singlish either!

At the end of 2018, everything changed.

GOD IS GOOD AND HE RESTORES! After prayer, therapy and serious logical thinking, I eventually got over my ex and started moving on with my life. Part of that process was also to move to a new country. I started applying for jobs in many different countries. Japan and Korea was where I set my eyes upon, but I also casually browsed job postings in Singapore.

Not having much hope (most job posts said “Singaporeans or Permanent Residents only”), I still took the plunge and applied for jobs in Singapore too. I was pleasantly surprised to land a Skype interview with a design consulting agency. The interview went exceptionally well. I’ve had my fair share of interviews, and some of them have been downright BAD. (Ripped pants? Been there. Forgetting the boss’s name? Yep. Stumbling over my bad Japanese? Lots of times). This time, we really clicked and had a great conversation, and then a second interview was scheduled.

At the end of the second interview, I was told that I got the job. Trying to keep my composure on the Skype call, I thanked them and said I would get back to them in a few days with my final decision (lol, like I even needed time to think). All the doors just started opening. I believe in the power of prayer, and how I know my prayers are being answered is not only the peace in my heart about something (if it feels bad it probably is bad, if it feels right it probably is right), but confirmation. Confirmation means people start agreeing with what you say, or people bring it up out of nowhere.

The week before I received the second job interview, I saw and heard Singapore EVERYWHERE. At the gym, someone was talking to their friend about Singapore. When I took my JLPT exam, someone wore a shirt that said I LOVE SINGAPORE on it. There was some piece of Singaporean news on the radio. And so forth. This kept happening, and I truly believe it’s God saying “Relax, I’m in control. You’ll go where I need you to be. Also, here are some big hints.”

And in 2019, I can call Singapore my new home

I started getting very excited about the idea of living in Singapore and my love for Singapore came back! It’s been a month since I moved here, and I cannot remember the last time in my life that I’ve been so incredibly happy. Every morning I wake up with wonder and gratitude that I’m living here. The people are friendly, the food is good, and the year-round summer is a dream for someone like me who hates winter.

More posts are coming soon about the logistics of my move, like how I got an apartment and what interesting cultural shocks I’ve experienced, so stay tuned!