How to find a language exchange partner that lets you speak and doesn’t suck!

I’m curious: How many times have you run out of topics to talk about with your language exchange partner?

Wait…you don’t a language exchange partner at all, do you?

If you have not found a language exchange partner yet, you must find them ASAP! Like, yesterday!

Here’s why: if you want to learn a language, you must practise and speak it. And just talking to yourself doesn’t really count.

On the other hand, if you do have a language exchange partner but it’s just like you didn’t have them, because you are fed up with having awkward conversation around the topic of “how was your day?”, fear not!! I’m here to help you find your language exchange soul mate!!

The truth is this: finding a language exchange partner to practise with is not enough. You must find a language exchange partner you’re excited to talk to. Someone you share interests and passions with. Someone you can’t wait to talk to (rather than someone you feel you have to talk to just “to get some practice”).

I know you’ve tried them all (me too!). HiNative, Tandem, Busuu, iTalki, Bilingua, Livemocha (that unfortunately closed down!)…these are just some of the most popular websites where every day more and more language learners like you try to find their perfect language exchange match!

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But, here’s the thing.

I’ve found my best language exchange partners in places (in real life as well as online) that are not language related.

When I worked full time as a freelance artist I used to hang out on DeviantArt a lot. DeviantArt is a community with artist from all around the world. I’ve found my best language exchange partners on there. And back then, I was not looking for language exchange partners, I was looking for like minded people who I could share my art with.

I had so many interests in common with these artistic folks that we could talk for hours; and when we were talking, it was more than just practicing a language; we were communicating and sharing what we loved, dreamed and were doing to achieve our goals. We were sharing opinions and giving each other support and advice.

In this way, we really connected with each other at a personal level. Consequently, I developed my language skills too as I wasn’t afraid of making mistakes when talking to them. I knew they were not there to judge me and they would help me out in case I didn’t know how to say something.

Finding language exchange partners in places that are related to your interests has two main benefits. Firstly, you’ll always have something to talk about with them. Secondly, by speaking to them you’ll build up vocabulary about things that you’re passionate about! 

The only disadvantage is that if you’re looking for a language exchange partner that teaches you the language, it’s less likely that you can find her in this way. However, as also the polyglot Benny Lewis admits, “language exchange partners are very rarely, if ever, able to teach their native language”.

Language exchange partners are mainly for conversation. If you are looking for language lessons, you’d better off invest in a language course with a qualified tutor (and if you need help with this, you should definitely consider applying for my personal learning programme;).

You may think, “but Ermy, my language level is not good enough to have a proper conversation with anyone!”

My answer: no one is saying you need to have a conversation with them straight away.

In fact, when I was still learning English, I didn’t actually speak to my fellow artists on Deviantart. I took baby steps. I started using the language in written forms first by replying to messages in the forum. Then, I used e-mails. Then, chat. And finally, only once I felt I got to know someone enough, I used Skype to have my first conversation with them – andthe first time is always so thrilling!

All these different types of communication (short messages, emails, chat, calls on Skype), used in the order I mentioned, allowed me to build up my language skills but also my confidence to finally have a real conversation with my language exchange partner (and they were much more than a “language exchange” partner!).

So, in a nutshell:

  1. Find your language exchange partners in places that are related to your interests
  2. Aim at building a rapport rather than just at practising the language.
  3. You don’t have to have a conversation with them straightaway, take time to get to know them first and build your confidence and language skills by using written forms of communication (email, texts and chat).
  4. Once you feel confident, hop on Skype for a real conversation.

Now it’s your turn

Here is a fun sheet fun sheet  that’ll help you turn your insight into action and start brainstorm where to find your next language exchange best friend. You can find more funsheets like this along with actionable strategies for your language learning in my 5 days Language Learning Challenge. Try it!

Happy language learning,

Ermy***

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