Meet TalkTalkbnb, a non-profit startup based in France, which connects aspiring language learners and adventurers around the world, promoting meaningful travel and cultural exchange. Launched in March 2016, TalkTalkBnb is a free online community which offers hosts (people who want to improve their language knowledge) the chance to contact travelers (mostly students, recent graduates and volunteers). The premise is simple – the host offers room and board in exchange for practicing the traveler’s mother tongue. Hosts can showcase their region by welcoming travelers from all over the world, and practice a foreign language from the comfort of their own home. In return, volunteers gain access to safe lodging, food and a place to rest after a hard day’s work, without paying a single dollar! What better way to experience life in a new city than enjoying the hospitality of locals, or learning a language with native speakers? Within the first three months of the launch, over 6,000 people in more than 50 countries have created profiles on TalkTalkbnb, a number which continues to grow.
Below is a Q&A with Hubert Laurent, Founder of TalkTalkbnb.
Q: Talk about the foundation of TalkTalkBnb. When did you decide to create the platform and how long did it take to get it to a place where you were ready to launch?
The idea first came to my mind around March last year, while having dinner with my family. Noémie, my eldest daughter, asked if we could move to England so she could improve her English – but sadly, this was not an option for us at the time. So I thought, what if I could do the next best thing, and bring the English to us?
We began programming in September 2015, with our intention initially being to launch TalkTalkBnb on New Year’s Day. However, we ended up postponing our launch until March 1st, to ensure that we were absolutely ready to hit the ground running. And that’s exactly what we have done – in just 3 months we have had over 6000 people create profiles, from more than 60 different countries, with 50+ languages being offered.
Q: Talk about how language has affected or changed your life and why you want create language opportunities for others?
As a young adult, I lived and worked in Italy, London and Los Angeles – I will always cherish the memories I have of this time. As a result of my years immersed in Italian, English and American culture, I picked up two new languages, and now run my own translation company.
TalkTalkBnb will allow countless individuals from across the globe to form their own unique experiences and create memories to last a lifetime – being part of that process is endlessly rewarding.
Q: When someone travels to a host home do they need to bring a lesson plan along or is it more of a casual learning environment?
What we are looking to facilitate is an immersive, yet informal setting for people to practice a language. This means no lesson plan is required – the traveler and host can come to an agreement as to what they expect in terms of tutelage online, before the exchange is confirmed. One of the best and most natural settings is around a table, sharing a meal – historically a universal sign of bonding and hospitality. Other ideas could include games, or going on excursions together and only speaking the target language.
Q: As a traveler what are my costs? The host provides food and lodging, do I have to pay for my flight?
The traveler will pay for their transport to/from the host’s house. As with any home visit, we suggest taking a small gift for the homeowner (depending on what is appropriate in their culture – do your research!) – this could be a traditional garment/food item/even your home team’s jersey. And cooking a traditional recipe for your hosts is bound to be well received!
Q: How our hosts confirmed? Do they go through a background check and application process?
Our verification process for hosts is a work in progress – we are looking to put in place a thorough screening system resulting in a database of reliable hosts in every corner of the planet.
Q: Are host families usually in large cities or could they be in rural areas as well?
TalkTalkBnb has attracted the attention of hosts all over the world. We have registered members in the world’s biggest cities – from Mumbai to Moscow and Mexico City – as well as less known destinations including Albania and Réunion. We are hoping someday to have hosts and travelers from every single country, forming the largest global community of language and travel enthusiasts out there.
Q: How long do travelers usually stay with the host family? Is there a minimum amount of time that the traveler has to stay?
It’s up to the traveler and host to agree upon the length of the stay, although 1-2 weeks is standard. If you want to arrange a longer visit, go ahead – the sky’s the limit!
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