Language exchange activities are widely viewed as a means of promoting language and intercultural competence and as a way to motivate students to learn a foreign language. Indeed, recently, educational policy has strengthened its commitment to advance and intensify language exchange. The inclusion of exchange activities in key education policy guidelines and the most recent curricula as well as active efforts to foster exchange at various school levels has also sparked scholarly interest in the effectiveness of exchange programmes.
Although there is extensive international research on the effectiveness of study abroad in tertiary education (particularly in the form of so-called mobility stays), and despite the publication of initial literature syntheses on the topic, research projects addressing language exchange at the primary and lower- and upper-secondary levels remain comparatively rare and the findings are often not reported in peer-reviewed journals. Although several projects – also in Switzerland – have examined various types of exchange activities, no general overview of the projects and their findings exists. What is needed is a comprehensive compilation of available research findings that consolidates relevant projects, compares content and methodology, performs a critical analysis and thus compiles a record of verified findings.
This synthesis focuses on the following questions :
- How effective are language exchange programmes in terms of the acquisition of language and cultural competence and the motivation to learn?
- What are the main factors contributing to their effectiveness?
The literature review focuses on foreign language competence; in doing so, the findings on individual language skills (e.g. listening, reading, speaking, writing, fluency, vocabulary) are considered separately. Findings on the motivation to learn a language and on intercultural competence are also taken into account. In the review, aspects such as school level, duration of exchange, supporting activities and methodological criteria (sample size, appropriateness of methods) are differentiated. In terms of region, the literature synthesis concentrates on findings from Switzerland and Europe.
The literature synthesis aims to present empirically supported knowledge on the effectiveness of language exchange in primary and upper- and lower-secondary education. Numerous smaller studies that have received little or no international attention are also analysed and their findings synthesised and systematised. The overarching goal is to sift through the information in order to identify reliable findings as well as research gaps and potential research areas. It is expected that the literature synthesis will serve as the starting point for future projects, and that it can form the basis for further developing and optimising exchange settings.