What Crosstalk Is, and Why It Can Help You Become a Better Teacher

February 11, 2019
Pablo Roman

Crosstalk is just a fancy name for something that has been happening since possibly prehistoric times. Applied systematically, it can both expand the possibilities of language learning and serve as great practice for a teacher that’s trying to use more the target language, even 100% of the time, while still making their classes very comprehensible.

But what is Crosstalk?

The simplest way of describing what it means is that it simply refers to two people having a conversation, where each person speaks a different language. This happens often naturally in bilingual communities where both speakers can understand both languages, but feel more comfortable speaking a different language each. It’s also quite common between heritage speakers and their parents.

This simple concept, when applied to language learning, turns out to be extremely powerful. When using Crosstalk for language learning, each person speaks one language they can speak fluently, which is the language that the other person is trying to learn. Since you don’t have to spend time listening to the other person trying to practice speaking the language they are learning, both participants maximize the amount of input they are getting when compared to a traditional language exchange, where half of the time would be spent having a conversation in each language.

Crosstalk allows you to start learning a language from zero, even without access to trained teachers, schools, or textbooks. The only thing you need is access to native speakers, either in person or online. Crosstalk also pushes the limits of how efficiently you can learn a language, since you are constantly receiving input that’s understandable, related to your life and your interests. Finally, it is cheaper, since you don’t need to hire a teacher and (almost) any native speaker can help you.

But how can you start learning a language from zero?

As mentioned before, doing Crosstalk is just having a conversation. There’s no limit about what topics you can discuss, and no imposed structure is necessary. If both speakers are at an intermediate level or higher, that is it. You will simply be having a conversation, and using the regular tools of repetition and circumlocution to make yourself more easily understood. However, for beginner learners, we use additional tools to make ourselves more easily understood, like gesturing, and the dreaded drawing, which we would use in addition to repetition and circumlocution. To these we can add facial expressions, imitating noises with our voice (making animal noises, imitating creaking doors, etc.), using visual aids like photos, and an assortment of sheets with images like maps, pictures of vegetables and fruits, etc. This allows us to communicate and have a conversation with someone even if we don’t have any language in common.

Not being forced to speak the language you are learning has some major benefits. You can do Crosstalk even when starting a language from zero because you are not limited by what you can say in the target language. For the same reason, you can also talk about more complicated and interesting things than if you had to speak your target language. No matter your level, your active vocabulary is always behind your passive vocabulary, so you will be able to communicate about a wider array of topics if you don’t have to produce those words yourself. Another plus of not having to speak the target language is that you don’t need to worry over how you are going to reply to your partner. You can focus on understanding what the other person is saying, rather than trying to prepare your response and ending up missing half of what the other person said.

But Crosstalk is not only useful for learning a language. It can also be very useful for teachers who want to get better at providing input to their students. It will let you practice telling stories and talking about many different topics, all while staying comprehensible. That will allow you to spend more time in your class speaking the target language and provide more of that sweet input. You will practice gesturing, drawing, recasting, and other tools to make yourself more comprehensible. In a future post, we will talk in more detail about the different techniques to make yourself more comprehensible.

Another big reason for teachers to try out Crosstalk is having the experience of learning a language yourself. Learning an additional language, and going through the experience of being a beginner learner again can be really eye-opening. For many, it will probably be the first time to start learning a language through an activity with so much comprehensible input. Having that first-hand experience can help you know what techniques are helping comprehensibility and which are not, what topics you find more engaging, what words you retain more easily, and in general help you be more humble and understanding when some students do not seem to have learned a certain word yet.

So, how to do Crosstalk?

The first step is to find a person to do it with. The ideal situation is to find a partner that wants to learn one of the languages we speak, and who can speak a language we want to learn. If you are a teacher who is just trying to get some practice, you can settle for someone who can speak a language you don’t know well yet. Also, if you can’t find anybody who wants to learn a language you can speak, you can always offer to pay for somebody’s time.

Ideally both partners must be at levels that are not too far apart in their respective target languages. A high beginner and an intermediate learner will be okay, but a complete beginner and a high intermediate learner would not be such a good match. You can still do Crosstalk, but the whole time it will feel that one person is doing a lot more work than the other.

You can watch this video for a lengthier explanation of Crosstalk and a demonstration between two people doing Crosstalk in Japanese and Polish who know nothing of the language the other person is speaking:

I hope you found this post useful and will go out and try Crosstalk for yourself. In upcoming posts, we will give more examples and more detailed advise about communication techniques to make it easier to start learning or teaching a language from zero with Crosstalk. See you in the next post!

Posted By Pablo Roman | Dreaming Spanish

I fell in love with learning languages while living in Japan. After learning Japanese to proficiency without traditional studying, I decided that a better way of learning languages is possible and I wanted to look for it. After one year in Bangkok learning Thai and experiencing a much more natural input-based method to learn languages, I decided that I wanted to help popularize these kinds of methods. In 2017, I started producing my own content that people all over the world can enjoy while learning.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Tell us how we can improve this post? If you would like a response, please include an email address.

Leave a Reply