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How beliefs affect your life

Much has been written about how beliefs influence our lives. Various companies exploit this by advertising self-affirmation, offering programs to improve motivation and trying to convince us that we cannot live without it. As a matter of fact, however, the truth may be quite different and may even completely undermine the idealistic picture of self-help from the marketplace.

Self-affirmation theory

In 1988, Claude Steel popularized the theory of self-affirmation, which posited that people feel the need to maintain their personal integrity. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves. In the event of a threat to one of these core values whether it be religion, family, work or hobby, people try consciously and unconsciously to diminish the negative feelings. Moreover, the frequently-occurring phenomenon here is a defensive reaction to diminish or make light of the threat; but also consistent with the theory of self-affirmation is to deal with the threat by referring to those spheres of life that we value equally highly and focusing our attention or action on them.  As a result,  self-esteem increases and this allows for a rational approach to the given issue.

Many experiments have been conducted to confirm this theory which in various ways made use of many personal values measured on scales as published in 1960 by Gordon Allport, Phillip Vernon, and Gardner Lindzey. For example, in the experiments of Mark Reed and Lisa Aspinwall (1998), participants were informed of the risk of a particular disease caused by profuse coffee drinking and then they were instructed to think about situations when they were kind to someone. As a result they were able to accommodate the threat. Similar research was undertaken by Peter Harris and Lucy Napper (2005) regarding women who drank too much alcohol.  It was shown that the test subjects after a month continually considered their habit harmful, although their behavior did not change. It could be that the power of the addiction hindered change.

Reduction of anxiety

Aside from studies of the change of beliefs strengthening the ego, research has been done on the reduction of stress.  What is particularly significant according to Amy Arnsten (2009) is that the excess stress interferes with solving problems and weakens creativity.  Also appearing interesting in this context is the experiment of the team of James Cresswell (2005), which asked participants to rank on a scale of importance items that would improve their mood.  Later, when they performed stressful tasks, the level in their blood of cortisol, a stress hormone, was lower than that of the control group.

A group of scientists led by Lisa Legault (2012) applied a slightly different procedure that recorded a reduction of errors made during the task of choosing correct answers.  The results suggest that self-affirmation helps test subjects focus on how they can perform better.  Additionally, according to the research of Creswell (2013), highly stressed individuals who underwent strengthening of their global self-esteem coped better with solving problems, and thus they associated more easily correlated facts and were more creative. This gives hope to pupils and students who have worse outcomes because of nervousness.

The role of self-Esteem

In 1993, Steele and his colleagues found that people who have high self-esteem and therefore feel above average in regard to various aspects of life are better prepared to manage problems, trying to resolve them instead of rationalizing their ignorance. Such people, however, must first recognize their own psychological resources by becoming aware of how important particular values are for them. Experiments carried out under the leadership of Shelley Taylor (2003) and Mark Seer (2004) make it possible to assume that these results can also be linked to the matter of coping with stress.

High self-esteem turned out to be a crucial influence also in the struggle with a threatening stereotype or when a social role was involved that is widely associated with submissiveness.  A good insight into this issue is the observations by the team of Laura Kray, which pointed out that strong preconceptions reduced the competence of women relative to men in the area of important negotiations. However, this effect disappeared if the point of view was presented that a typical feminine characteristic produced an advantage in this situation. Making different assumptions, however, was Sonia King (2015), who with the help of some colleagues managed to improve the negotiating effectiveness of the psychologically weaker party (when buyer and seller were paired up) by directing his or her attention to other important parts of his or her life.

The effectiveness of positive formulas

In the popular understanding of self-affirmation, positive statements about oneself are repeated in the hope of making them come true. Furthermore, both the concept of freedom of acceptance developed by Muzafer Sherif and Carl Howland in 1961 and the theory of self-comparison quoted and confirmed by Donna Eisenstand and Michael Leippe (1994) and William Swann and Daniel Schroeder (1995) say that one cannot accept claims that differ significantly from the picture that one has of oneself, and it is not significant whether it comes from oneself or one’s environment. In addition, according to Mark Zanna (1993), inconsistent statements can even strengthen us in a negative belief.

This view is also confirmed in the research of the team under the leadership of Joanna Wood (2009), which focused on the influence of self-affirmation on people with high and low self-esteem. The participants expressed their belief about the effectiveness of this form of self-help, and the first group declared their frequent use of it. The experiment revealed that the people with low self-esteem did not benefit from the repetition of positive statements, which might have even slightly worsened their mood.  On the other hand, people with a high level of self-esteem benefited only slightly.  This outcome questions the validity of using self-affirmation because it does not help those who truly need it and gives a false impression of usefulness for the others.

With an alternative to traditional self-affirmation came the research team led by Ibrahim Senay (2010), who first ordered the volunteers to think over whether they could solve anagrams and then asked them to do it.  The control group differed only in that they were to think that they would succeed. The results were that the first group finished significantly more problems.  The next two parts of the experiment were to test the effect of writing down short questions (“Will I”) and their components (“I”, “will”), which were to be seen as connected and separate items.  Here better results were obtained, but only if the participants believed that the phrases and words as presented made any sense.  This last procedure, in addition to the exposure to the question “Will I” also involved an assessment of the participants’ motivation to start or maintain regular physical activity.  After that, the volunteers pointed out which of the twelve possible reasons to do it were most convincing for them.  It turned out that the very contact with the question increased the level of self-motivation for the exercises, which suggests that the question is a mediator between the awakening – even unconsciously – of a thought and the desire for action.

How it relates to language learning?

At this stage you should already be aware that many of the above facts can have a direct impact on your learning. However, the validity of applying the results of these experiments to language acquisition is not conclusive, because the very impact of beliefs on the process of acquiring such knowledge and using it in practice has not yet been adequately examined. From what is known so far, we can draw the assumption that self-affirmation consisting in focusing attention on other important life values can be effective in changing habits related to language learning because they convince you that it is not that hard, they improve communication skills in stressful situations where one party seems to have a psychological advantage, they reduce stress and the number of errors you make and they increase creativity and problem-solving skills through overcoming your nervousness, that is they improve the things that are essential when you take aim at mastering a foreign language. When it comes to simple affirmations for learning languages, I would not bother with them; they are likely to help only those who don’t actually need them. And finally, speculation over whether you will do something seems to be a good idea for improving the motivation to do something.

Further reading

  1. Creswell, J. D., Dutcher, J. M., Klein, W. M., Harris, P. R., & Levine, J. M. (2013). Self-affirmation improves problem-solving under stress. PloS one, 8(5), e62593. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062593
  2. Kang, S. K., Galinsky, A. D., Kray, L. J., & Shirako, A. (2015). Power Affects Performance When the Pressure Is On Evidence for Low-Power Threat and High-Power Lift. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin41(5), 726-735. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167215577365
  3. Legault, L., Al-Khindi, T., & Inzlicht, M. (2012). Preserving integrity in the face of performance threat self-affirmation enhances neurophysiological responsiveness to errors. Psychological science, 0956797612448483. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797612448483
  4. Senay, I., Albarracín, & D., Noguchi, K. (2010). Motivating goal-directed behavior through introspective self-talk the role of the interrogative form of simple future tense. Psychological Science21(4), 499-504. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797610364751
  5. Sherman, D. K., Cohen, & G. L. (2006). The psychology of self-defense: Self-affirmation theory. Advances in experimental social psychology38, 183. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0065-2601(06)38004-5
  6. Wood, J. V., Perunovic, W. E., & Lee, J. W. (2009). Positive Self-Statements Power for Some, Peril for Others. Psychological Science20(7), 860-866. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02370.x

语言嘅误会 // 語言嘅誤會

语言嘅误会; (粤语版)

今次,我决定将我哋国家嘅四个笑话翻译成广东话。


倾密偈。

上个礼拜我去咗剧场。我坐到o系张好舒服嘅凳度,仲谂住一阵可以睇好戏添。出舞台剧真系好好睇呀,不过冇办法享受。o系我后面坐咗一对年青男女,佢哋倾得好大声。我好嬲,我差唔多听唔到演员嘅对白。我拧转头。我怒睥住佢哋,佢哋当我透明。最后, 我顶唔顺。我又拧转头。

我闹鬼佢哋:「我乜都听唔到!」

位先生好串对我讲:「唔系你嘅事嘅噃!我哋自己倾计之嘛。」


o系法庭 :

法官: 「陈太,你几大呀?」

陈太: 「法官大人,我廿二岁又几个月啫!」

法官: 「几多个月呀?」

陈太: 「即系一百廿个月之嘛。。。」


放假o个阵时,波士同佢个工人o系写字楼里边倾紧偈:

波士: 「陈生,你中唔中意啲好多汗嘅女人呀?」

陈生: 「唔中意嘞。」

波士: 「噉你中唔中意饮热啤酒呀?」

陈生: 「都唔中意嘞!」

波士: 「好,噉样我决定咗喇,你冬天先至放假嘞。」


阿仔同佢妈妈讲:

阿仔:「妈咪,你睇吓喇,o个只狗好似王生㗎!」

妈妈:「你唔好讲得咁冇礼貌!」

阿仔:「 哦,噉你估呢只狗知道王生系乜嘢人咩?你怕呢只狗可以嬲咗我哋,系唔系?」



語言嘅誤會;(粵語版)

今次,我決定將我哋國家嘅四個笑話翻譯成廣東話。


傾密偈。

上個禮拜我去咗劇場。我坐到喺張好舒服嘅櫈度,重諗住一陣可以睇好戲添。齣舞台劇真係好好睇呀,不過冇辦法享受。喺我後面坐咗一對年青男女,佢哋傾得好大聲。我好嬲,我差唔多聽唔到演員嘅對白。我擰轉頭。我怒睥住佢哋,佢哋當我透明。最後, 我頂唔順。我又擰轉頭。

我鬧鬼佢哋:「我乜都聽唔到!」

位先生好串對我講:「唔係你嘅事嘅噃!我哋自己傾計之嘛。」


喺法庭 :

法官: 「陳太,妳幾大呀?」

陳太: 「法官大人,我廿二歳又幾個月啫!」

法官: 「幾多個月呀?」

陳太: 「即係一百廿個月之嘛。。。」


放假嗰陣時,波士同佢個工人喺寫字樓裡邊傾緊偈:

波士: 「陳生,你鐘唔鐘意啲好多汗嘅女人呀?」

陳生: 「唔中意嘞。」

波士: 「噉你鐘唔鐘意飲熱啤酒呀?」

陳生: 「都唔鐘意嘞!」

波士: 「好,噉樣我決定咗喇,你冬天先至放假嘞。」


阿仔同佢媽媽講:

阿仔:「媽咪,妳睇吓喇,嗰隻狗好似王生㗎!」

媽媽:「你唔好講得咁冇禮貌!」

阿仔:「 哦,噉妳估呢隻狗知道王生係乜嘢人咩?妳怕呢隻狗可以嬲咗我哋,係唔係呀?」


 

The role of attention in language learning

Scientists have long debated the extent to which attention and conscious effort improve or harm the process of learning a foreign language. This controversy did not lead to a compromise as each side became entrenched in their respective positions, and the only thing that was changed by the passing years was toning down their positions and making some concessions. This article aims to elucidate the complicated situation on the effective mechanisms of language learning.

Understanding

In 1977. Stephen Krashen put together the observations of previous researchers and created an input hypothesis. It was based on the assumption that the only things required to learn a language are comprehensible spoken or written utterances in the target language that do not greatly exceed the student’s understanding. Krashen believed that it is mostly the absorption of prepared materials similar to the way children learn, and not listening to teacher’s instructions, that leads to mastery of speaking skills. Moreover, in his opinion knowledge of grammar rules does not translate into greater fluency of speaking, but serves only as a tool for conscious checking of its correctness. Until this day, these assumptions continue unchanged.

Every great idea, however, has its opponents. For example Rost (1990) pointed out to Krashen that understanding does not necessarily translate to mastering, because someone can easily guess what something is about but at the same time not know the grammar rules that were used. A similar view was shared by White (1987), who stated that the lack of problems with the interpretation of the meaning does not necessarily contribute to language acquisition. Fuel to the fire was added by Doughty and Williams (1998), who stated that although the dominant view was that a large part of the language can be learned in a natural way, some of its elements can be mastered only with a teacher’s assistance.

Noticing

One of the main opponents of Krashen was, however, Richard Schmidt, who in 1983 came upon the case of an English learner who was still committing significant errors in spite of a long stay in a foreign language environment. Schmidt concluded that his failure could result from not noticing that he speaks in a different way to his interlocutors. His subsequent experiment with the teaching of Portuguese (1986) confirmed his conviction that frequent contact with a foreign language ceases to be significant when the learner does not notice the constructions that are used. In a similar way, not getting a correction may make it difficult to learn from one’s mistakes. This discovery later became the basis on which the noticing hypothesis has been coined as a response to Krashen’s idea.

Of course, Schmidt could not avoid criticism either. One of the most important was the analysis performed by Truscott (1998) who stated that the mastery of grammar rules may not be possible because of the difficulty associated with the conscious noticing of all these abstract rules in an utterance. And he was talking only about drawing attention to them and not understanding them, because according to Schmidt (1990) drawing conclusions is not a part of the process. Due to these reservations, he moderated his postulates two decades later, recognizing that the concept of conscious learning applies mainly to adults.

However, some positive opinions in support Krashen idea also appeared. For example, Ellis (1995) found that most of the features of the language escape learners’ attention if they are not instructed by a teacher. In addition, in the case of things that have a chance to latch on by themselves students do not cope too well with their subsequent use. On the other hand, Rosa and Leow (2004) showed that the very awareness of the existence of certain elements of a language helps in their later acquisition. Subsequent research by scientists such as Takahashi (2005), and Simard (2009) confirmed the importance of learning methods that improve attention that include consciousness raising, emphasing selected parts of source utterances, high exposure to content, etc.

According to Ellis (1997) consciousness raising consists of explaining specific rules of a language and then ordering students to carry out certain tasks with the source materials, which stimulates them to understand how the rules work in practice. An alternative to this technique, described by VanPatten (2004), is to learn the rules and try to achieve some goal, which requires the use of acquired knowledge. The results of Amiran and Sadegi’s experiment (2012) show that consciousness raising is more effective than traditional teaching of grammar, but in the study of Jafarigohar (2015) it came out worse than performing practical tasks.

In the same experiment, emphasing fragments of texts, e.g. using bolds, turned out to have no impact on generating utterances. Moreover, Lee and Huang’s meta-analysis (2008) suggests that this way of increasing noticing might not be very effective or even completely ineffective when it comes to learning grammar and could also hinder understanding of the content. This calls into question the implementation of solutions focused on text enlarging, underlining, bolding, italicising etc.

Many researchers, such as Lightbown and Spada (1993), have confirmed the effectiveness of exercises in which the emphasis is put on communication, and grammatical explanations are only used from time to time, for example when there is an interruption in speech or a teacher decides to take a closer look at some rule that seems to be needed at that time. According to Fotos (1998), this approach is a response to the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the methods of science in which most attention was paid to grammar. Of significant importance could also be the fact that according to Jean and Simard (2011) rigid learning of rules is considered tedious and demotivating.

Production

However, Krashen did not have to deal only with the supporters of Schmidt’s thesis. The third person who joined the controversy was Merrill Swain. In 1985 she created the output hypothesis, which was kind of a mirror image of Krashen’s claims. It was grew from her observation of participants in a long-term program emphasizing immersion in a foreign language. The results of this study were surprising, because it turned out that although children significantly improved their understanding and pronunciation skills, the level of grammatical competence was far less than the one presented by native speakers. In this respect, they knew only just as much as they needed to cope with normal situations and tests. Based on these findings Swain came to believe that simple contact with a language is not enough to acquire it.

One of the key tenets of the output hypothesis is that the imperfect attempts of communication are essential because they allow people to spot gaps in their knowledge and language skills. On this basis, learners build a picture of what needs to be improved and pick up with greater ease, for example, useful grammatical structures when they come across them in the future. According to Qui and Lapkin (2001), the higher the level of fluency students present, the easier it becomes for them to notice things that need improvement. However, according to Shin (2010) people who know quite a lot also encounter problems with noticing, which may be due to the complexity of the issues that occur at this stage.

Unfortunately up to this point, not enough studies have been performed to fully verify the validity of this hypothesis. The previous findings come mainly from experiments coauthored by Izumi (1999 – 2002), who studied the impact of the production of statements on noticing and obtained ambiguous results. Another attempt was made by Russel (2014), who ordered the subjects to learn the text filled with target structures and then take grammar tests. It turned out that their ability to use the practiced rule improved, although no one had explained to them how it worked.

Conclusion

On the basis of Ünlü’s (2015) words, it can be concluded that a significant number of scientists insist upon maintaining their opposing positions regarding conscious and unconscious language learning. This is particularly visible in Krashen (2013), who does not take into account any significant interaction between the knowledge acquired unconsciously and the one that is learned. The growing amount of research does not help to determine which hypothesis is the right one, because there will always be some counterarguments. Each group may very well be partly right without providing a complete explanation of the process of learning a language. People who are looking for effective prescriptions should then look for insight from the lucky ones who have managed to achieve their language goals, because the dispute among researchers still waits to be resolved.

References:

  1. Ahn, J. I. (2014). Attention, Awareness, and Noticing in SLA: A Methodological Review.MSU Working Papers in Second Language Studies5(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.2001.tb00016.x.
  2. Fotos, S. (1998). Shifting the focus from forms to form in the EFL classroom.ELT Journal,52(4), 301-307. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.4.301.
  3. Godfroid, A., & Schmidtke, J. (2013). What do eye movements tell us about awareness? A triangulation of eye-movement data, verbal reports and vocabulary learning scores.Noticing and second language acquisition: Studies in honor of Richard Schmidt, 183-205.
  4. Jafarigohar, M., Hemmati, F., Soleimani, H., & Jalali, M. (2015). An Investigation of the Role of Explicit and Implicit Instruction in Second Language Acquisition: A Case of English Embedded Question.International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature4(3), 98-108. http://dx.doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.4n.3p.98.
  5. Latifi, M., Ketabi, S., & Mohammadi, E. (2013). The Comprehension Hypothesis Today: An Interview with Stephen Krashen.Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching10(2), 221-233.
  6. Rahimi, S. (2014). ON THE ROLE OF INPUT AND INTERACTION IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION.
  7. Russell, V. (2014). A closer look at the output hypothesis: The effect of pushed output on noticing and inductive learning of the Spanish future tense.Foreign Language Annals47(1), 25-47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/flan.12077.
  8. Schmidt, R. (2012). Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning.Perspectives on individual characteristics and foreign language education6, 27.
  9. Sarkhosh, M., Soleimani, M., & Abdeli, J. (2012). A Closer Look at Noticing Hypothesis and Focus on Form: An Overview.International Journal of Linguistics4(3), 179. http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/ijl.v4i3.2201.
  10. Ünlü, A. (2015). How Alert should I be to Learn a Language? The Noticing Hypothesis and its Implications for Language Teaching.Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences199, 261-267. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.07.515.

点解M字同拿破仑好有渊源呀? // 點解M字同拿破侖好有淵源呀?

wizja-napoleona

《拿破侖———战神》 波兰画家 – Wojciech Kossak

点解M字同拿破仑好有渊源呀?;(粤语版)

M字母对拿破仑嚟讲好紧要。佢嘅六位元帅嘅姓都系M字开头:Murat、Moncey、 Massena、 Mortier、 Macdonald同埋Marmont,而且佢廿二位将军o个名都系M字母开始添。佢第一场战争o系Montenotte,最后一场o系Mont-Saint-Jean。拿破仑Mollesime, Mondowi, Marengo, 莫斯科, Montmireil同埋 Montereau 都打胜杖。 Mailand系佢嘅第一个虏获嘅城市,莫斯科系最后一个。 响马德里同埋莫斯科嘅战役系拿破仑失败嘅主要原因。拿破仑、 Montholon同埋拿破仑贴身男仆人Marchand一齐前往圣海伦娜岛。 Murath系第一个背叛拿破仑嘅元帅。 Menou响埃及战败。拿破仑同Moreau斗咗好耐,斗得你死我活,,后来Moreau亦背叛拿破仑。拿破仑三位大臣系Mavel、Montalivet同埋Moll。佢嘅第一个管家系Montesquieu。佢最后住o系法国嘅地方系Malmaison。 Maitland骑都尉将拿破仑送去圣海伦娜岛。


以上资料来自一八八零年波兰报纸:《Biesiada literacka》。



wizja-napoleona

《拿破侖———戰神》 波瀾畫家 – Wojciech Kossak

點解M字同拿破侖好有淵源呀?;(粵語版)

M字母對拿破侖嚟講好緊要。佢嘅六位元帥嘅姓都係M字開頭:Murat、Moncey、 Massena、 Mortier、 Macdonald同埋Marmont,而且佢廿二位將軍嗰名都係M字母開始添。佢第一場戰爭喺Montenotte,最後一場喺Mont-Saint-Jean。拿破侖Mollesime, Mondowi, Marengo, 莫斯科, Montmireil同埋 Montereau 都打勝杖。Mailand係佢嘅第一個虜獲嘅城市,莫斯科係最後一個。响馬德里同埋莫斯科嘅戰役係拿破侖失敗嘅主要原因。拿破侖、 Montholon同埋拿破侖貼身男僕人Marchand一齊前往聖海倫娜島。Murath係第一個背叛拿破侖嘅元帥。Menou响埃及戰敗。拿破侖同Moreau鬥咗好耐,鬥得你死我活,,後來Moreau亦背叛拿破侖。拿破侖三位大臣係Mavel、Montalivet同埋Moll。佢嘅第一個管家係Montesquieu。佢最後住喺法國嘅地方係Malmaison。Maitland騎都尉將拿破侖送去聖海倫娜島。


以上資料來自一八八零年波蘭報紙:《Biesiada literacka》。



 

The dangers of pen pals and why lang-8.com is an awesome website

lang8You can either study a language all by yourself, or pay someone to guide you and a group of people in this process. Regardless of the chosen form of learning, there always comes an ultimate moment of truth: using the language in its spoken, interactive, social-based form.

The need of achieving this goal becomes even more urgent once you are no longer progressing from having conversations with other students of the same language. While watching movies and TV series outside of the course is certainly going to make the input of the spoken language easier for you, it won’t probably affect your output performance. And until comes a time of perfectly programmed and usable artificial intelligence devices for language learners, you are most likely left with no other choice than finding a living, breathing and thinking conversation mate. The ultimate goal here is to make your spoken performance more authentic and natural sounding, all thanks to interacting with a native speaker.

Once you succeed in finding the right person for this journey, you can even start thinking about setting even more ambitious goals, such as gaining new friendships and expressing your emotions in the target language. If sharing emotions is not necessarily your thing, better keep in mind that being able to communicate and have a verbal impact on someone is often thought to be the main principle of a successful language learning process. You learn to express, to impress, to inform; basically exchange thoughts with another human being (often a representative of a totally different cultural context).

One way or another, you have to set your expectations right. But the main question is – are you even allowed to have them? How do you find a native speaker who’s going to keep in touch with you for longer than one evening?

DO YOU WANT TO BE MY FRIEND?

Needless to say, if it wasn’t for the Internet and the possibilities that it brings, globalisation would probably be a much slower process than it is today. Travelling to distant lands seems to be priceless in terms of meeting new cultures and people that can make us understand them – but as we all know – it can get pricey, as well as energy and time consuming, and most people are simply not able to go around the world – even if that’s what they dream of.

That’s why there’s only one place you have to be – online.

Most people’s first step is to google websites or social networks that are strictly focused on language exchange. Interpals.net is a widely known example of such place.

INTERPALS – WHAT TO EXPECT

*NOTE* Everything written underneath is an expression of my own thoughts, opinions and subjective experiences related to Interpals.net.
However, I’ll try my best to point out both dangers and advantages that come with it.

What’s a pen pal? A pen pal is a new friend from another corner of the earth whom you get to know through letters… or online messages and chat”

– taken from interpals.net

I wish it was that simple, but it hardly ever is.

The reality of Interpals can hit you in a few unfortunate ways:

1. Not all users are people you’d find worth talking to. Most of them won’t message you at all, and those who will are often intruders, naggers or people unable to hold a decent conversation. A friendship doesn’t just pop up at the very first try.

2. Even though Interpals is not a dating website, people tend to fall for the same unrealistic expectations, not really regarding romantic relationships as much as just hoping to find a perfect friendship match.

3. The reality of Interpals is somewhat similar to making friends at those summer camps you used to attend when you were a child. Entering a penpal website, you feel almost obliged to start chatting with someone right away, just so that you are not alone. Later on, you may find it quite awkward to continue being around that person till the end of the “camp”.

Luckily, Interpals provides you with a wide range of setting and filtering options, so that you can limit your search to people who are most likely into similar hobbies that you are. But unfortunately…

1. Just the way in which Interpals expects you to make friends is highly unnatural – even for the reality of Internet communication.

2. If you are a native English speaker, your “popularity” considering the cultural exchange will be way higher than other nations. Same goes with each language that is ‘hyped’ enough at the moment – the best match is usually someone Korean or Japanese exchanging their knowledge with someone from an English speaking country.

3. The creators of Interpals.net try to keep the conversations between users within the website’s own inbox. Bringing the conversation outside of the network is discouraged, and people really have to be determined about keeping contact via other channels of communication (facebook, e-mail, phone). If you’d rather keep it casual, good luck with remembering about checking your interpals inbox regularly. I’d forget about it right away.

4. Some guys are there just to hit on gals. Simple as that.

I personally failed there twice. First time, when I send more or less 20 messages to randomly picked Swedes asking them to help me start having simple conversations in their native language. Only one person wrote back, and even though we still wish each other happy birthday on Facebook, we stopped talking after a few (awfully simple and therefore probably tiring for him) conversations.

My second fail wasn’t really my fault – at least not in terms of my poor language skills. Surprisingly, an American guy answered positively to my willingness to discuss the newest album of my favourite rock band. I decided to send him my detailed, 10,000-character review. I still can’t understand why he never replied.

IF NOT INTERPALS, THEN WHAT?

I would rather recommend looking after internet forums of all sorts: the main goal here is to find a foreign community (speaking your target language) but focused on something you are REALLY passionate about. It could be anything: a discussion board for Norwegian anglers, an Italian chat for football lovers, an online network of Czech housewives… and so on). My English would never be so good if it wasn’t for last.fm – a social network for music lovers – and the amazing people I met there.

CAN INTERPALS EVER BE USEFUL?

Absolutely yes. It just takes determination not to be discouraged by trying over and over to find the right person to chat with. But for those who are not quite sure of their abilities it’s probably better to stay within those laid-back and not-so-deep relationships. It takes a lot of stress for a beginner to keep a conversation in their second language – so it’s better to do it as anonymously and casually as possible.

WHAT IS LANG-8?

Saving the best for last, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favourite language websites which perfectly combines two absolutely crucial features: educational and social. Welcome to lang-8.com, where you can become a teacher, a corrector, a reviewer, a discussion partner – and lastly, but not leastly – a friend.

Lang-8.com is based on a selfless act of language help – first you set up a completely free account to gain an opportunity to post journal entries in whatever language you want to learn. Then you wait for a correction (or a few corrections) made by a native speaker (or speakers) of your target language. Meanwhile, you can return the favour to someone else – there is always a hobbyist that wants to improve their writing, no matter if it’s in English, Catalan, Finnish, Hindi or Korean. You are also able to share your interests, which is the best possible way to grab someone’s attention for a (possibly) long-term comments/letters/PMs or e-mails exchange. Whoever dreams about being a teacher of some sort, will find loads of joy and pleasure in correcting other people’s texts, explaining them either grammar or vocabulary issues they should work on. While this is obviously not a professional kind of tutoring (unless that is your real life occupation), most of the advice and tips given by lang-8 users look professional and reliable.

Lang-8, in comparison to Interpals, has also provided me with much more interesting conversation partners, both English and Swedish speaking. Not sure what exactly is the case here – maybe the corrected entries themselves are interesting enough to be a good conversation starter – depending on what you write them about, of course.

What are the real chances of having our journal entry corrected by others? Are some languages more popular, or certain nations more helpful?

It may sound surprising, but there are a lot of people keen on actively learning Polish. These are mostly East Slavic nations, as well as… the Japanese! People from the far East seem to obsessively love Chopin and present quite an impressive attitude. Poles, obviously charmed by all of this, are super helpful with correcting entries written in their mother tongue. Being personally interested in Swedish, I seem to have it a little bit more tough, but still manageable. It usually takes around 24h to receive feedback on my writing from native Swedes.

To sum up: lang-8 seems to be the easiest and fastest way to reach foreigners that are enthusiastic enough to help you with learning their native language. It’s a community based on people passionate about spreading and sharing their cultural heritage; open-minded and patient towards everyone. My suggestion is not only to use lang-8, but also any other website that meets your expectations. It’s good to follow people’s recommendations, as long as it results in your own noticeable progress that you can be proud of.