A good language exchange partner can be hard to find.
The problem a lot people have is that they don’t know what to talk about. Each person waits for the other to say something interesting. When nothing happens, each thinks the other is somewhat dull. Unconsciously, they project onto each other lowered expectations. The conversation becomes even more lifeless.
Eventually the pressure of discomfort builds until someone beats a hasty retreat.
But there’s an easy way to turn a mediocre language exchange into a fascinating experience for you and your partner. In a 1992 report entitled Pygmalion in the classroom, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson discussed a fascinating study.
The experiment basically showed that the students’ performance was influenced by the teacher’s expectations of them.
The finding of two other researchers pointed in the same direction. Feldman and Prohaska took one group of students and told them that the teacher was “quite effective.” Another group was led to believe that their teacher was “incompetent.”
The results indicated that the better the impression a student had of his teacher, the more she paid attention and the better she performed overall.
This effect where people respond better when they feel that more is expected of them is known as the Pygmalion Effect.
What does this mean for your language exchange?
It means that if you want your language partner to be more interesting, imagine him to be very intelligent, interesting and engaging. If you convince yourself of his abilities to the point of feeling drawn to him emotionally in some positive way, he’ll feel it.
It may take a while for the effects to show, but if you do it with enough genuine conviction and enthusiasm, your partner will begin to respond very positively to your treatment of him.
Try this the next time you meet with your language exchange partner. If you can’t wait that long, go find someone to talk to right now. Anybody. As you talk or listen to her speak, find as many things that you really like about that person and get excited about it. It’s ok to invent positive traits if you don’t know the person well or nothing really strikes you.
Then come back to your computer and leave a comment about your experiences below.