How To Use Language Exchange As A Currency For Free Travel

language exchange

By Katie Foote, Epicure & Culture Contributor

The sharing economy has truly changed the landscape of tourism, helping travelers go beyond their guidebooks to have more local experiences. Airbnb is one of the most popular platforms in this new world, giving visitors to a destination the chance to live, literally, like a local. But a new platform, TalkTalkBnb, is taking local accommodation to the next level by giving it a language-learning twist.

TalkTalkBnb is a free social network for travel and language-learning. The site connects international travelers with hosts around the world who are looking to improve their language skills. The premise is simple – the host offers free lodging (yes, you read that right) in exchange for practicing the traveler’s mother tongue. In just five months TalkTalkBnb has accumulated over 8,000 members from 40 countries, with travelers offering 60+ languages.

Founder Hubert Laurent hopes this program will disintegrate language barriers and help battle xenophobia, creating a global, communicative society.  In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the city’s population became stronger and more unified when they realized that, despite coming from different cultures, everyone was experiencing the same thing.  He hopes that when hosts and guests spend time together, talking and sharing meals, people will realize how much they have in common and work towards creating a more peaceful society.

We caught up with Laurent to learn more about TalkTalkBnb, and how we can use the sharing economy for good.

Hubert and children. Photo courtesy of TalkBnb.

Hubert and children. Photo courtesy of TalkBnb.

1. What gave you the idea to start TalkTalkBnb?

The idea first came to me around March 2015, while having dinner with my family. Noémie, my eldest daughter, asked if we could move to England so she could improve her English – but sadly, this was not an option for us. So I thought, what if I could do the next best thing, and bring English to us? The idea grew into a service for people everywhere who, like Noémie, want to discover the world not just for its sights, but for its people.

What if #language lessons could come right to your home? Now they can! #travel Click To Tweet

2. When did you first realize the transformative powers of foreign language?

I actually left France when I was 23 after I finished my studies, and didn’t come back until I was 30. I traveled around the world for seven years, working when it was possible. My travels allowed me to learn multiple languages, and I experienced over and over the sense of autonomy and accomplishment that comes from being able to communicate with those around you and function in a society that’s not your own. Language helps you build relationships with others and become integrated into a community.

When I returned to France I became a translator and interpreter. Language has been so instrumental throughout my life, that I wanted to encourage others to realize this as well, to experience the enrichment that comes from cultural and linguistic exchanges. TalkTalkBnb is a means to facilitate these exchanges.

One of your possible hosts. Photo courtesy of TalkTalkBnb

One of your possible hosts. Photo courtesy of TalkTalkBnb

3. Why do you believe language exchange can remedy xenophobia and create a global society?

A lot of conflict in the world today comes from misunderstanding. And naturally, people often fear what they don’t understand. By welcoming a traveler into your home, or by staying with a local, guests and hosts both have the opportunity to learn about each other’s culture and traditions, and grow your understanding of the world. You may discover that what you thought you knew is not the whole story. Empathy and understanding come from communication and relationship building.

With English becoming the world’s lingua franca, it is useful, even necessary, to speak English professionally. As a TalkTalk traveler, you can be a vital part of someone’s English language learning. It is also useful for English speakers to practice other languages. This is why it is good to be a TalkTalk host as well. From my experience, when you make the effort to speak someone’s language and understand their culture, they are thrilled and subsequently become more open towards you.

It’s important to remember that we should celebrate our diversity. A global society isn’t about everyone having the same culture or language, but rather using our different gifts and experience to work together toward a common goal of peace and tolerance.

4. What is some of the most powerful feedback you’ve received from participants?

For many of the participants there’s a realization of how much they identify with their host/guest. The jokes may be different, but laughing with friends feels the same everywhere. A traditional meal among family can be, at the same time, the most exotic and the most familiar thing. No matter the country, no matter the language, human goodwill remains universal.

#Language exchange is powerful in more ways than one. Here's how #travel #ttot Click To Tweet
language exchange

Photo via Canva

5. How can readers can get involved with the cause of battling xenophobia and eradicating fear in this age of terrorism?

If you feel uncomfortable with a foreigner or foreign culture, ask yourself why you feel that way. Check if it’s related to a personal experience, or just preconceived notions. Try to empathize or see it from the other’s perspective. Ask questions (respectfully) to help clear things up. Speak out if you see xenophobia from others.

Expand your horizons and your understanding by reading as much as you can about the world from many different sources, and talking to people who are different from you — perhaps even hosting them through TalkTalkBnb! When traveling, make sure you educate yourself on cultural differences and social mores. A good example is that many Americans find restaurant servers in France to be rude, because they don’t check up on their customers. But this is because the French, contrarily, find it rude to be interrupted during their meal several times by a server and prefer to be left alone.

In short, the more you learn and live outside your own culture, the more open-minded you will be able to become.

Have you had a unique language exchange experience? Please share in the comments below!


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Katie Foote may be a physicist by trade but she travels the world any chance she can get. After four years of semi-nomadic life as she finished her PhD, she's recently moved to Auckland, New Zealand. Despite beginning a more traditional life, she has insight on how to travel the world on a graduate student budget (cheap!), explore off-the-beaten-path destinations and authentically experiencing new places by connecting to locals. When she's not doing physics or globe-trotting, she likes to swim, do yoga and hike (or "tramp" as they say in New Zealand). Check out Katie's blog to follow her adventures around the world.

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