Once upon a time, the streets were filled with kids.
Sweaty, smelly and dirty creatures.
Running alongside others their age, their squeals of delight echoing throughout the neighborhood.
They played hopscotch, tag and hide-and-seek, and reluctantly said their goodbyes with the setting sun.
Then the internet and Xbox came…
And nothing was ever the same.
Kids are now in their rooms all day and all night—taking bites and sips of snacks and soda between the lulls in “DOTA,” amidst the clacking keyboard and the whooshing mouse.
Meanwhile, they haven’t even met the neighbor kids. They do, however, know @Andrus457 from Hungary and @Bernhard from Germany because they, too, play “PUBG.”
Move over, Skype.
There’s a new kid on the block (bringing chips, gum and a headset!).
And even if you’re no longer a child yourself, you can make use of gaming tech to practice your target language with learners and native speakers all around the world.
In this post, we’re talking about the communication platform called Discord, and how language learners can utilize it for language exchange.
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What in the World Is Discord?
Before Discord, gamers used Skype for real-time communication as they screamed instructions to team members playing on the other side of the globe. But it was a resource hog and affected game performance. In May 2015, Discord was released, providing seamless, simple integration for gamers. The gaming community immediately took to Discord and think it the best thing since “Counter-Strike.”
So… where’s the happily-ever-after language exchange in this fairytale?
That came next. Discord was originally intended for gamers, but the platform started to attract people with all kinds of shared interests, from stock trading to fantasy football. And, yes, language learners.
Language learners have found kindred spirits on the platform. And we now have a case of positive unintended consequences where exchange of information, ideas and language practice is facilitated by this thing called “Discord.” So let’s look at how you can start using it for your language exchanges.
And as you’re seeking out fun target-language interactions, remember that FluentU is always here for you to keep you from ever running out of stuff to talk about. This makes it easier than ever to share authentic media with your exchange partners as well as to discuss things like viral content and popular news stories.
6 Awesome Ways to Hack Discord for Language Exchanges
1) Use the platform to host you and your language exchange partners.
Perhaps you’ve already found language buddies via dedicated language exchange sites and apps like MyLanguageExchange.com or ConversationExchange.com. Discord is simply another option for a place where you can connect.
Discord is very much like Skype—if you’re able to navigate one, you’ll be able to work out the other.
They both have text, voice and video chat, plus screen sharing. But you may find Discord’s audio clearer and video crisper, and hey, it’s lighter on your CPU.
2) Join a server and meet language exchange partners on Discord.
Think of Discord’s servers as communities of people with shared interests—in this case, language learning. You have servers that deal with language learning in general, like “Language Practice And Learning,” and also servers that focus on a specific language, like “Students of Spanish.”
You can go to sites like discordservers.com or discord.me to search for servers that are relevant to your cause.
Fortunately for us, someone named “ryry013” on Reddit did the hard work for us and created a masterlist of language-related servers on Discord. Check it out to see what servers are relevant to you. For sure the list is far from complete, as new language servers are created on a daily basis, but it’s a good starting point.
And you can always Google terms like, for example, “learn german discord server,” and get hits related to learning German. Don’t narrow your search by using “language exchange,” though. When you join these learning communities, you’ll likely not only meet fellow learners, but also native speakers in those circles who are just psyched to help those who want to learn. Who knows, you might not just get a language exchange partner, but a tutor free of charge.
So, how do you join a server on Discord once you find one? Click on or enter an invite. These invites are links that look like this: https://discord.gg/xxXxxXx
When you search for the servers, you’ll also find the invites to join them. So click on those links and prepare for a great learning experience.
3) Use the text chat feature to scope out future language exchange partners.
When you first join a server, you’ll notice that there are two main types of channels: text and voice.
Server admins can put up as many different text chats as warranted. Maybe they’ll have an #Announcements section, a #Rules section and even a #Grammar section. How the different text chats are organized will really depend on the folks running the server.
Members can write practically anything in the text chats, from “hi” to requests for translations. Reading up on the text channels can be a good way to get the lay of the land. The great thing about Discord is that it keeps a history of messages, so you can play catch up and know what has been talked about in the past few days.
As you read, notice those folks who are active, those who are funny, those who are extra helpful. (Also those unwittingly annoying.) Anybody who seems like a senior or leading member of the group? Take note of them. Also be on the lookout for those who regularly field language questions and give answers that knock them out of the park.
After your initial surveying, it’s time to let people know that you exist. So go ahead, write in as many text chats as possible. (Just make sure you stay on topic.)
Introduce yourself to folks by saying something like “Hello, everyone! Happy to be here.” This opens things up for responses. And when people welcome you, write them back. Each and every one! Hit the ground running and immediately engage those people.
If, on the other hand, your opening move doesn’t get any response, don’t lose heart. Simply jump into ongoing conversations by asking questions. For example, if you see a discussion on Spanish grammar textbooks, ask if X book is any good. Or, if you know a good one, recommend it to others.
Put yourself out there and call out potential language buddies. Write something like, “Anybody up for language exchange? I speak English and would love to learn some German.”
The text chats can be a good way to get your bearings first. Sometimes, talking to a complete stranger via audio can be nerve wracking. So exchanging a series of text messages can serve as a warm up.
When you’re warmed up enough, you and your fellow learners or new exchange partners can start direct messaging for more privacy.
4) Use voice chats to really hone your speaking skills, or catch a language discussion/class.
You can click on a voice chat and instantly be a part of it. Unlike text chats, where you can have multiple ongoing conversations, you can only join one voice chat at a time—and these will be categorized by admins according to relevant language discussion topics. You might have one dedicated to Korean language practice, for example.
Think of voice chats as hanging out… with potentially many other people. Anybody can join and talk away. The problem is, when you’ve got too many people talking in your ears, it sometimes becomes incomprehensible, and beginners might feel that the interaction is happening way too fast. This is why most voice chats are ideal for advanced language learners who really just want somebody to chat with to hone their existing speaking skills.
The reverse problem is finding yourself alone in a voice channel. (Well, that’s just sad.)
There are some voice channels where only specific people can talk, and everybody else simply listens. This set-up is a good one for language podcasts, or as a music channel where they might play Spanish songs, French songs, etc.
A language teacher or tutor can also give lectures on a channel, to more students than can fit in a normal physical class. (Or, if their class sets up a dedicated Discord server, they can ask students to come in for the weekend for some bonus lectures.)
5) Use video calls and screen sharing for intense language exchange sessions.
You’ll only be able to use video calls with people you’re already friends with, so you need to learn how to add people as friends.
If you find somebody interesting in a server you’re in, you only have to right-click on that person’s username and choose “Add Friend.” If the two of you, however, are not connected in any way, you can access a friend request box from your friends list where you type the person’s name, for example, “DiscordName#000.” (As with anything in life, this form is case-sensitive.)
OK, video calls.
You can do one-on-one video calls or set up a group video call with as many as 10 participants.
But let’s just say you do one-on-one.
This is really where you can do most of the language exchange. You can talk about anything and teach each other anything. There’s an art to language exchange, from finding your partners, to choosing topics to talk about. Study up and apply all these lessons when you’re on Discord.
Discord also allows you to screen share. You can choose whether or not you want to share your whole screen or a specific application window.
This tool comes in handy when you’re teaching your partner something and you need something visual to explain your point. You can use Word to teach vocabulary or a web whiteboard, perhaps. Or, say you’re talking about parts of the body. You can screen share some pic you got from Google Images and point to the different parts as your language buddy follows on the other side of the world.
6) Engage in language exchange while playing games!
As mentioned earlier, Discord was specially designed for gaming. So… why not take a page from that book and use Discord to play games while learning a little something along the way?
You can do this a few different ways:
- Change the language settings of your games. Just as you can change the language settings for your social media accounts to the target language, you can do the same for your games. Instead of showing off your skills and rocking the gaming world in English, why not do it in your target language? Language options will vary depending on the games and system you’re using, but it can’t hurt to consider your options. Think of the learning opportunities!
- Play with native speakers of your target language. Look for teammates that speak the language that you want to speak. Learn by osmosis. Hours of gameplay and you won’t only be able to yell “schießen!” (shoot) to your German teammates. You’ll be able to build friendships that go far beyond role-playing.
- Play language games with people you meet on the servers. If gaming is not really your thing, and you get dizzy at that barrage of video stimulation coming at you, then why not play simple language games instead? They may not have a complex background story or awesome graphics, but they’ll hit you with some very educational fun.
For example, on the “Students of Spanish” server, there’s currently a text channel called #juego-de-palabras (literally, “game of words”). To play, you need to look at the last word presented and give its translation. You’ll then be able to give your own word (in English or Spanish) with the stipulation that your word must begin with the last letter of the previous word. Other people will continue your work. Fun!
Okay, that’s Discord for language exchange—in a nutshell.
Learning a new language is literally at your fingertips when you use authentic apps and programs for language learning.
We’re indeed a global village and we can talk to people thousands of miles away as if they’re lounging around in the adjoining room.
Take advantage of this reality. Go and explore Discord. Now.
This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you
can take anywhere.
Click here to get a copy. (Download)
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
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