The Power of Language Exchange

With millions of Latinos wanting to improve their English and millions of Anglos wanting to improve their Spanish, you’d think there would be lots of programs in America for them to help one another. There aren’t. I’ve looked. That’s why I was thrilled when my friend alerted me to a fellow in Denver who had started one.

When I got James Archer on the phone, I learned he wasn’t a language teacher. In fact, he wasn’t a teacher of any kind. Instead he was a “semi-retired” software entrepreneur. But he was something else that tends to be important: he was frustrated.

James Archer and Rocío Durán, Sharelingo Founders

James Archer and Rocío Durán, Sharelingo Founders

James had done the usual things to learn Spanish and was making progress, but yearned for real conversations with native speakers. After he couldn’t find an organization that offered that, he decided to invent it. Hear the story of ShareLingo; it’s another example of what’s going right in America.

America the Bilingual is a storytelling podcast for people who think bilingualism is good for themselves, for their families, and for their country.Listen on iTunes by clicking here:

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Monique Roberts and Saraí Borunda Berber, Sharelingo participants

Monique Roberts and Saraí Borunda Berber, Sharelingo participants

After listening to our 20-minute episode, you might also like this video produced by ShareLingo, which will help you understand what they do.

Organizations mentioned (and a key book)

Building Skills Partnership is a non-profit organization that brings together janitors, unions, and companies to work cooperatively for the benefit of English learners. I’m indebted to BSP for having me as a volunteer at Google, Stanford and especially at Facebook where I met and got to be friends with Alejandro (not his real name) and his family.

My thanks to Luis von Ahn for explaining in a phone interview the purpose of his wildly popular language-learning app, Duolingo. Luis and his team are pushing to see how engaging and useful computer technology can be for language learning. At the same time, Luis understands that the end goal is to foster human-to-human communication.

To learn more about him and his work, I recommend the interview with Luis von Ahn on the Genius Dialogs offered at Audible. It is produced by Maja Thomas and hosted by Bob Garfield.

America’s professional organization of language teachers also recommends the use of technology for language learning together with human instruction and guidance. You can read ACTFL’s suggestions here.

Sharelingo is based on face-to-face interaction. To understand just why direct human contact is so important, and why even excellent electronic communication cannot substitute for it, I recommend Susan Pinker’s book, The Village Effect: How face-to-face contact can make us healthier, happier, and smarter.


My deep thanks to Carolyn Doughty for introducing me to James Archer. The strength of friendship (and weak ties) comes through once again.

The America the Bilingual podcast is part of the Lead with Languages campaign of ACTFL — The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

This episode was written by me, Steve Leveen, and our producer Fernando Hernández, who also does our sound design and mixing. Associate producer is Beckie Rankin. Our brand and editorial director is Mim Harrison. Graphic arts are created by Carlos Plaza Design Studio.

Music in this episode with a Creative Commons Attribution License by:

Kevin Macleod — Quasi motion

Francisco Penilla — Chicle bombita

Lee Rosevere — More on That Later,

Art of Escapism — Little by little