Who knew that sharing a coffee with a local Tico in Heredia, Costa Rica, would change the life of 26-year-old American and low-intermediate Spanish-speaker Chris?
It was the first intercambio, or language exchange, for both learners, and they couldn’t help but share anxiety. Speaking with a stranger in a foreign language is naturally beyond comfort zone at first—which is exactly the point.
A minute later, they settled into a fairly fluid dialogue, communicating pretty effectively. Was it grammatically perfect? Of course not. Did they understand each other? More often than expected. Were they paying attention deeply, racking their brains to access vocabulary or verb tenses they had learned in class to convey or comprehend an idea? Yes.
Determined to bring similar experiences to others, Chris led a team to create Boomalang, a language-exchange platform focused entirely on speaking.
An accelerator program, competitions, pilots, and first paying customers later, Boomalang is now bringing language learners together with the shared goal of speaking Spanish and English. After testing with universities the past two semesters, the technology service will now be available to the public this fall.
“Boomalang is an absolute treat,” says Dr. Lisa Merschel, Spanish professor at Duke University. “My students were challenged and rewarded from their conversations with native speakers from Latin America on Boomalang. It was simple and effective for me to incorporate into my curriculum.”
To date, average conversation length has been 34 minutes. The video platform offers game-like conversation guidance, as well as a timer that switches between English and Español every 15 minutes—both of which provide needed structure missing from other virtual exchange products. Additionally, teachers are provided statistics that allow them to track their students’ usage.
“We aren’t replacing what educators do,” says founder, Chris Gerding. “Adding Boomalang simply lets them and their students realize more motivation and mileage out of the classroom work. Students can experience the joy of successfully communicating in a target language, and teachers don’t need to adjust their planning to make it happen.”