Language exchange in the workplace

Language exchange in the workplace

There are a lot of advantages to living and working in London. One of which is that you’ll be able to exchange languages and practice in the workplace. The city is so diverse that the likelihood you’ll be working with people from many different countries is high.

So, what can you expect from a language exchange at work?


There are many people who will come to London expecting their colleagues to be comprised of just British people. If you thought this before coming to London, then it’s not your fault, there is a representation of London throughout the world that is not even vaguely accurate. If you trawl through foreign films and their interpretations of London, you’ll see typical images depicting droves of British men in top hats riding on various forms of crowded public transport.

The reality is that modern London is actually a melting pot of global culture. Even in outlying towns such as Wimbledon, Watford or Guildford, you’ll be able to hear a multitude of languages just walking about in the town centre.

When you’re at the office, shop, factory or wherever you may work, it’s more than likely a company policy to speak English at all times. There are some companies which will expressly state that they want you to converse in another language, but for the most part, English is vital.

If you’re trying to learn English, then you should take advantage of every opportunity you get, but be warned that you may not be picking up correct grammar or vocabulary from your multicultural workmates. It’s probably a good idea to combine speaking with as many people as possible throughout your day with some studying to make sure that you’re getting things right.


It’s going to take a lot of time before you get used to your new life in London and slowly becoming more proficient with your English is just one of the things you’ll notice. Get to know your workmates and what they like to talk about, it’s something that will make your life easier.

Depending on the type of work that you do to earn a living, you might interact with many different people throughout your working day and you should take advantage of that. Customer service jobs are among the most popular for foreign workers in the United Kingdom and although these jobs offer a low wage and long hours, they do have the added benefit of communication with people from all walks of life. You’re likely to find difficult situations too, which will put your language skills to the test as you’ll need to use linguistic skills to calm or diffuse specific events.

It’s really important that you don’t try and rush into things because it will make people less willing to speak with you if they don’t think that you can handle the language well. It also has the potential to hinder your progress as you may head into conversations where you don’t fully understand everything and that could severely damage your self esteem.


This is probably the hardest part of a language exchange as we have become a species unwilling to share information with those around us until we are fully aware of their intentions. It’s possible that this behaviour has come from the extreme connectivity we are exposed to each day online. We may feel more socially awkward as we have become accustomed to sharing our emotions and experiences through the virtual world as opposed to reality.

You should try your best to interact with your colleagues or customers wherever possible. Your colleagues will be in the same situation as you and probably just as nervous to speak. It’s also important to remember that if you do have British workmates, they’re probably much more reserved than their Italian, Spanish or South American counterparts. Be open with them and let them know that you’re interested in having a conversation but don’t put so much pressure that they’ll be averse to having a meaningful talk with you.

Make sure that you understand the differences between being open and being flirtatious. The truth is that in British culture, we are somewhat cold and distant. This isn’t because we don’t want to be friends or have positive relationships, it’s just part of our culture. It’s advisable to keep the touching to a minimum when in the company of British people as it can be easily misconstrued as flirtatious and unwanted behaviour.


This point is linked to the idea that we can’t be open, but it seems that a lot of people are unwilling to share even the slightest bit of information about themselves. It’s entirely possible that this is because of a misconception about British people and their reserved characteristics.

We may not speak a lot about ourselves typically, but that’s just because it takes us a while to form close emotional bonds with anyone. Again, we can equate this to the cultural aspects of different nationalities or communities. British people are not generally brought up with a big family and taught to communicate through physical contact as much as those on the continent. Instead, we are shown how to verbally communicate and while this is comfortable for us, it’s understandable why it could cause confusion during language exchanges and communication with those from other countries. The thing is that when you keep your cards close to your chest, to use a very English expression, it becomes impossible to maintain lines of communication. Talking about yourself is essential for both work and language exchanges alike. If you are able to convey information about yourself, including your likes, dislikes, preferences and irritations, then your work colleagues and language exchange partners will be able to directly communicate further information without the worry of annoying or upsetting you.

It’s also psychologically healthy to talk about oneself as it boosts self esteem and confidence, which in turn will make your future exchanges with people you know and potential new friends a lot easier than they have been in the past.


We should clarify that we don’t mean you need to carry a notebook around with you at all times, although if that’s how you learn then you should have no problems in doing so. What we do mean is that it’s really important the conversations you’re having serve a purpose in your language exchange process.

You’re likely to hear hundreds of pieces of new vocabulary each day through conversations with your friends, colleagues or customers. The issue is that if you’re not retaining any useful information from these day to day exchanges then they may feel fairly inane, especially if your goal of living and working in the UK is specifically to improve your English.

Some language exchange users have expressed the benefit of having their phone handy with a notepad/flashcard app so that they can add new words or phrases they’ve learnt during their lunch break. Of course, this may not suit you and you may be a learner who is more fine tuned to the audio and speech factors of the language as opposed to the language and grammatical structure. Each individual is different and it’s important that you figure out which you are so that all those conversations you’re having throughout the day have some meaning.

Most of all, you should try to make the most of your job. The truth is that you probably don’t love what you’re doing and it’s mostly likely been really hard to adjust to a new climate, especially one as difficult and trying as London, but the journey to where you want to be is important and something you’ll only get to do once. Relish this opportunity that you have before you and do your best to learn as much as possible while you can.

Written by: Jordan Benyon, Staff Writer

Language Exchange