Language exchange: the ultimate farewell to loneliness

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The Sydney Lingos's poster. Credit: Bihan Hu

*Intended publication: Honi Soit

In Sydney, thousands of students from over 190 countries come and study every year. The language was undoubtedly a considerable barrier for these different nationalities’ people when they settled a new life and study. Initially, they may speak Mandarin, French, Tagalog …,however, now they have to use English as their first language in Australia.

I am a Chinese international student like thousands of one who came to Sydney last year. I grew up bilingual, both Mandarin and Korean are my mother languages, and I worked as an interpreter for one year after graduated my university in China.

These seemingly remarkable backgrounds, however, did not play any role in my English. Like most foreigners, homesickness and loneliness wrapped around me all the time. When I thought I almost faded, it was one social activity that entirely helped me to escape from the nightmare of being alone.

The activity is called Language exchange.

Language exchange, aiming to gather multilingual cohort and whoever want to learn a new language. It is a fun, flexible, freeway that people who speak different languages to meet up each other and exchange language and cultural.

The process of language exchange is simply fill in a survey first, which asking your nationality, language(s) you can speak, the language you want to learn. Then based on these personal profiles, organizers will match the language skills and make sure everyone has one or two language exchange buddies. Then you can contact your partner and meet up together to start exchanging language.

Currently, there are around six offline language exchange communities. They are free, flexible and open to anyone who is interested in learning, practicing and improving a new language. One of the newest organizations was formed last month called “Sydney Lingos.”

“Sydney lingos is a weekly language exchange that we have at Pyrmont Bridge Hotel, so it happens every Wednesday and what we do basically is give stickers of participants’ native country and the language from strongest to weakest language they can speak…” Vanessa King, the organizer of Sydney Lingos, said.

The reason why language exchange communities such as the Sydney Lingos can become increasingly popular among people, especially for international students, is because this is the most direct way to get involved in a community without any limitation of your English.

People come to Australia because of diverse reasons. Some students were forced by their parents’ sustenance of achieving a higher degree; some are coming for making a living here, others may want to go outside world as they have not set up a clear goal for future yet.

However, for whatever reason, that international students come, being alone is a typical situation that most newcomers will face. No matter you are young or old; rich or poor, being alone is a situation that inevitable and challenging at least at the beginning of your overseas life.

Jieoun Lee, one participant of Sydney Lingos, said: “I came to Sydney just ten days ago, and before today I didn’t have any friend here with me. I know there is VIVID show, but it was totally not fun for me. But today I am surprised I met Jelly, an Australian Philippino who want to learn Korean and she was happy to teach me English too. It’s impressive.”

Meeting up new Spanish friend
Meeting up a new Spanish friend at Sydney Lingos. Credit: Bihan Hu

“I am really enjoying it and you know you aboard without your family, you miss your friend and family because there is hardly any people talk with… so it’s kind of nice when you meet up like this, you talk with different people, learn different languages…,” Abrar Bashar, an international student from Bangladesh who currently enrolled in UTS said.

In the beginning, you may not notice how hard is being alone.

However, things got worse when your black-heart landlord asked you must turn off the light before 10 pm, and you could not correctly argue with him in English; Your classmates preferred to communicate in their mother languages while you want to practice English; The fifteenth times that you failed to order your food in the Subway simply because those green leaves’ names were too hard to remember; You want to complain all these annoying cases to your boyfriend while he is still sleeping in a different time zone; When the Christmas is coming…

Some people survived, others may not.

Christopher Mccaughey is an academic English teacher and skills teacher from the University of Sydney, CET (Centre of English Teaching). He has been teaching a large number of fresh international students for the past years.

“I have seen students become lonely for a variety of reasons… the most serious case of loneliness probably was a guy in my class, and I noticed that he had not come into class, he stopped socializing with classmates, he also stopped doing assessments. Eventually, he dropped out the course, and he went back home.” Christopher said.

As one of the most popular teachers in CET who can also speak Chinese and Korean, Chris has recommended his students to join the language exchange of the University of Sydney’s community after he realized that some students are lack of engagement with local cultural and even with their classmates.

“It’s quite difficult, but the first thing is you need to make the first step, if you want to socialize, you say hello first, you make some plans and don’t wait for someone to come and ask you … because no one ever will,” he said.

In fact, to be survived in days being lonely, the best choice for international students is to learn the value of sharing and to start sharing whatever you have. You may say “I have nothing to sharing,” but the fact is “of course you have.”

Language exchange programme is such a perfect opportunity to help students break the ice and get involved in a community, as you may not confident with your English but you definitely confident in your mother language.

learning Korean through English
learning Korean through English. Credit: Bihan Hu

“The opportunity is there for them, but they do need come upstairs and get into by themselves,” Vanessa King said.

Being alone never means you should be lonely, being alone is genuinely provide you an opportunity to explore another cultural or even if a language that enforces you to a broader world you never expected ever before.

It is because you are alone that you must first say “Hello” to someone. Language is never a barrier that stops you socializing with others because sharing and exchanging languages, learn something new from each other is always not a bad starting point for everyone, and that would be the ultimate farewell to loneliness.

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About Bihan Hu 6 Articles
Mater of Media Practice student in USYD/ Chinese & Korean Simultaneous interpreter/ Freelancer of drama scenario translation

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