TalkTalkBnb: A New Way to Interact and Connect with an International Community

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Hubert Laurent, a French entrepreneur passionate about education and language, is the CEO & Founder of TalkTalkBnb, a new social travel platform that provides consumers with an avenue to interact and connect with an international community. 

Hubert Laurent, founder and CEO of TalkTalkBnB

Shortly after graduating in 1990 from CNAM TOURS, Hubert embarked on a lifetime opportunity to travel the world. From the US to Japan, from London to Moscow, Hubert worked odd jobs for several years, but he always managed to make the best of his experience and more importantly, meet great people and learn different language wherever he was. 

Upon returning back to France at the age of 30, Hubert took his experience from traveling around the world and joined a translation agency as an interpreter and expert translator. It was there that he discovered the importance of language and created TalkTalkBnb with the help of local college students. 

When Hubert isn’t traveling the world or learning a new language, he enjoys classical music and spending time with his family. 


Where did the initial idea of TalkTalkBnb stem from, and how has it evolved?

The idea first came to me around March of 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. 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.

As a native French citizen, what type of international educational experience have you been exposed to? 

In Europe, we have an exchange program called Erasmus. It gives students the opportunity to go abroad during their studies, and spend a year on a foreign campus. It’s usually for one year.

I actually left France when I was 23, after I finished my studies, and didn’t come back until I was 30. I travelled around the world for seven years, working when it was possible. Japan, the US, Italy, Poland, Russia, England, Hungary, the Czech Republic… My travels allowed me to learn multiple languages, and when I finally returned to France, I became a translator. 

How has the ability to know more than one language played a pivotal role in the success of your international experiences from recreational to professional?

I was sure, when I left France, that learning other languages would be useful. The experience ended up opening the door to my professional future.

Now, I have created a site where everyone has free and easy access to foreign language learning and where they can contribute to a better future - for themselves, of course, as it’s useful professionally to speak multiple languages - and for society. Hopefully language barriers will disintegrate, and people of all origins will be able to better communicate, leading to a better understanding of each other, and more peaceful interactions.

TalkTalkBnb: A New Way to Interact and Connect with an International Community

What are some of the advantages TALKTALKBNB can provide compared to typical classroom like educational programs?

TalkTalkBnb is the perfect complement to academic learning. You can’t learn a language from scratch with TalkTalkBnb, but you also can’t truly master a language until you have lots of practice speaking it, and for this you have two choices. Either you spend a lot of money to go abroad where the language is spoken, OR, through TalkTalkBnb, you welcome native speakers into your home. This way, you get authentic language practice and the opportunity for great progress.

We all know that acquiring a second language is important, but what are other incentives to welcome someone into your home or your family's home?

It’s very important to be open to world cultures. Learning and practicing the language of your guest is a perfect way to start. Conversations and meaningful exchanges will lead to discovery of other parts of the world, as well as more awareness of cultural differences.

But even if you don’t speak the language, an exchange like this can be rewarding - for example, I don’t speak a word of Korean, but I’d be thrilled to welcome a Korean traveller into my home, because you still get to “travel.” Tasting Korean cuisine, listening to stories of their family, their journey, discussing their traditions and hopes for the future… there’s an exchange and an improved reciprocal understanding.

What type of experience should hosts expect from travelers, e.g., a typical classroom like setting or an unorthodox casual learning environment? What type of experience should travelers expect from hosts?

There are no prescribed methods or number of hours. As I’ve said, it’s about practicing in an authentic manner, without constraints. TalkTalkBnb gives hosts the chance to practice the language of their choice at home, in a more convivial atmosphere, like around the dinner table, for free.

The traveller enjoys a comfortable room, a home-cooked meal, and insider information on the best sightseeing the area has to offer. Who better than locals can tell you about interesting places, picturesque walks, and must-see festivals in the neighbourhood!

The custom is generally for the traveller to prepare a traditional meal once or twice during their stay. Cuisine is also a type of voyage. Participate in an Indian, Chinese or Moroccan meal prepared by a native, and you’re already travelling!

TalkTalkBnb: A New Way to Interact and Connect with an International Community

Does TALKTALKBNB provide safety measurements to ensure that travelers and hosts not only gain a rewarding experience, but most importantly a comfortably safe one?

Linguistic exchanges, be it between individuals or through an academic or university program, have existed forever. Problems are extremely rare.

Like all collaborative platforms, TalkTalkBnb has a system for hosts and travellers to evaluate each other. Before long, there will be enough exchanges completed for the evaluations to work in context. Meanwhile, we are currently working to integrate identity verification into the system alongside the evaluations, which will be active very soon.

We also give advice on the site on how to stay safe. For example, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself before you meet face to face, through Skype, email, or by telephone. In addition, most women travelling or hosting alone prefer to do exchanges with other women, which we encourage. 

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