L002 | Language Exchange | 100 Powerful Ideas to Maximise The Power of Language Exchange

I. Ideas for Conversations

100 Questions To Ask People : this list gives for ideas for things to talk about

II. Games
A. Question games
The two partners ask each other random questions

A1. Twist: The questioner does not have answer his own question to make this more like a game
A2. Twist: Theme Based; examples: holiday, childhood, work, politics (sensitive topic)

B. Role Play
Examples: Holiday, Foreign Country,

XCIX. Templates
* Set Timer
* Keys: LA -> Language A; LB -> Language B

3 min: Saying Hi and explaining the benefits of using timer
8 min: LA (Introduction: Name, Origin, Background, Job, Motivation in Language Learning)
8 min: LB (Introduction: Name, Origin, Background, Job, Motivation in Language Learning)
3 min: Short Break
5 min: LA (Gratitude Exercise)
5 min: LB (Gratitude Exercise)
10 min: LA (Question Game)
10 min: LB (Question Game)
15 min: LA (Instant Review of points jotted down)
15 min: LB (Instant Review of points jotted down)
5 min: Wrap up, action plan, and schedule for next meeting

Total: 87 min

C. Tips
In all the above, cycle through the alphabet to generate ideas, e.g. A for apple, A for aléatoire, etc.

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Book Review: Grammaire progressive du français

Have you always wanted a grammar book that is informative, not boring and comprehensive? For French Grammar, “Grammaire progressive du français” is my personal favourite! 


  • The whole book is in French. Thinking in English can hinder fully assimilating the points.
  • Concise. The grammar explanation is concise and very good for reference.
  • Lots of exercises. Practise makes perfect. The myriad of exercises make this an excellent book


  • Model answers for exercises have to be bought as a separate book.

Amazon UK

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Some reactions to ideas in my sociolinguistic lectures

“IQ and social class are not correlated”

Let’s define a few terms. Social class is “a broad group in society having common economic, cultural, orpolitical status.” (Random House dictionary) IQ is “a number used to express the apparent relative intelligence of a person” (Mariam Webster)

Sadly, the statement is simply not true. IQ, however non-comprehensive is, correlated with intelligence, at least in an academic sense. Intelligence does correlate with education. Education does correlate with income. Clearly, income level does play a very significant role in most general understanding of social class, at least in the sociolinguistic academic circle. (See wiki and Telegraph article)

“All languages are equally complex, the view otherwise is a language-attitudinal problem”

I see it rather differently, see my long article on this matter. I must at least that I have not fully read up about language attitudes yet.

“There are no pragmatic linguistic variables”

A simple wiki search reveals otherwise. HRT is such a pragmatic linguistic variable.

The high rising terminal (HRT), also known as uptalk, upspeak, rising inflection or high rising intonation (HRI), is a feature of some accents of English where statements have a rising intonation pattern in the final syllable or syllables of the utterance.

HRT is indeed a sociolect feature.

A 1986 report stated that in Sydney, it is used over twice as often by young generations as by older ones, and particularly by women (Guy et al., 1986). It has been suggested that the HRT has a facilitative function in conversation (i.e., it encourages the addressee to participate in the conversation), and such functions are more often used by women. It also subtly indicates that the speaker is “not finished yet”, thus perhaps discouraging interruption (Allen, 1990; Guy et al., 1986; Warren, 2005). Its use is also suggestive of seeking assurance from the listener that she is aware of what the speaker is referring to.

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Not all languages are equal

In one of my first sociolinguistics lecture at Birkbeck University. I read in my lecture notes “Linguists – consider all varieties to be equal – equally complex; equally able to express meaning; marker of identify”. In particular, this is referring to the dominant idea in linguistics that all human languages are equally complex. Having studied mathematics and computer science up to Master level, I somehow have a strong belief that complexity can be quantified and measured in some way and that this must apply to human languages as well.

The following will be my main arguments:

  1. In Child Language Acquisition, it takes the child different number of years to acquire the basics of his mother tongue
  2. In Second Language Acquisition, some languages are easier to learn than others even taking language similarity into account
  3. In Child Language Acquisition, some sounds are acquired much later than others.
  4. Some grammatical structures are simply much more succinct and expressive

For a start, grammar in different languages are not the same. Some languages have complex inflection and derivation whilst others don’t. For example, Russian, being a fusional language has many cases and tenses and aspects. However, Malay, being definitely an analytic language, have no inflections at all. It’s generally agreed in the online language learning community Malay, at least at the beginning stage, is by far one of the easiest languages to learn as a foreign language. So, even taking into consideration the degree of similarity being the native language and target language of the language learner, some language are simply easier to learn.

It is true and it is the general impression that almost all children learn to speak their mother tongue by around age 3 to some degree of general competence. However, this is actually not the case for all languages. For example, in some Caucasian languages, it takes the child around 7 years to master even the basics of the language, the reason is that the grammar is indeed far too complex. There is a general observation in linguistics that the complexity of a language negatively correlates with the degree the language has interacted with other languages in history. As an example, many foreigners tend to find learning Mandarin much easier than learning Cantonese, the reason why? Cantonese has more tones than Mandarin and more pragmatic sentence-ending articles. These factors do add to the complexity of the language. Interestingly, this is mainly because, historically, many non-Chinese was essentially forced to learn Mandarin, e.g. in the 7th century, in the process of learning a complex language, the learners would, in the process, simplify the language, when the native speakers interact with these new speakers, the language does eventually simplifies over time. This is actually one of the main reasons for relative simplicity of the English language as a foreign language to learn. (English has no way a simple orthography, but let’s not forget that this is more due to socio-political reason.)

“Though it is increasingly accepted in the behavioral sciences, the evolutionary approach is still meeting resistance in linguistics. Linguists generally cling to the idea that alternative linguistic features are simply gratuitous variants of one another, while the advocates of innate grammars, who make room for evolution as a biological process, exclude the evolution of languages. The rationale given is that today’s languages are all complex systems. This argument is based on the failure to distinguish between complexities of form and function. The proper analysis reveals instead that linguistic features have consistently decreased their material complexity, while increasing their functionality. A systematic historical survey will show instead that languages have evolved and linguistic features have developed along a Darwinian line.” (Bichakjian, 1999)


Further Reading

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