When I first started learning foreign languages, I remember putting up ads because I wanted to start studying with a language partner (is my age showing?). And then Skype came out, and I could talk to people all over the world, but it still wasn’t easy to meet people. And finally, a few years ago online communities and apps began popping up to fill a big gap and centralize the language exchange process.
Now, with one click of a button, you can connect with language learners around the globe. But these partnerships are different from regular friendships or learner-teacher relationships. Keeping just a few simple rules in mind will foster fruitful exchanges that both parties truly benefit from. Read on to find out what they are.
Last Updated: 09/09/2020
The 7 Golden Rules for Successful Language Exchange
After we published our article on how to find a language exchange partner, our readers sent us lots of follow-up messages on how they could get the most out of language partnerships. And on the problems they were coming across! Using their comments and questions as a starting point, I crafted this article on the seven golden rules of getting the most out of studying with a language partner (in real life or online).
1) Find a partner who is at the same level as you
Think of foreign-language conversation like a sport. You need to play with somebody at the same level if you want to keep both parties entertained and making progress. That is, someone who is at roughly the same level in your native language as you are in theirs. (This article explains ways to evaluate your level if you don’t know where you stand. It takes English as an example, but the CEFR scale applies to all languages.)
If this is your first time studying with a language partner, check out this article on the basics of linguistic exchange.
2) Change partners if you aren’t making progress
There are people who you can talk to for hours without ever running out of something to talk about. Yet with others, you constantly run into awkward silences that seem impossible to break. This all comes down to how you two feel about each other. There’s no use in forcing yourself to talk to somebody you don’t find interesting or you don’t have anything in common with.
If your first conversation doesn’t go as well as you would like, give it another try. If you’ve ever gone on a blind date, you know that the circumstances of these first meetings can make things awkward. But if you still aren’t satisfied after a few meetings, find somebody new! Chatting online is a great activity for improving your skills, but only if you enjoy doing it. It’s always easy for me to find a new partner since I love branching out and meeting new people.
3) Establish starting times
To start off on the right path, it’s best to set clear expectations from the very beginning. If you can meet for an hour at a time, split the first meeting into two 30-minute sessions. Give yourselves a few minutes to figure out logistics in whichever language is easiest for both of you. Find out the best times for both of you to meet, how long, and how often. Most exchange websites and apps facilitate this process and some even suggest partners based on these criteria.
Also, be sure to set a timer so that you both get equal time to practice. We recommend doing half one language and half the other for each conversation. But you might decide that alternating every other conversation is more convenient for you. Whatever you decide, just make sure the arrangement is fair. Remember, you’re not tutors, you’re partners. (You may want to read this article if you are more interested in online conversation courses than free exchanges.)
4) Avoid grammar when studying with your language partner
Don’t waste your learning time asking your partner about grammar rules. You’re much better off investing in a textbook or even using online resources for grammar practice. Here’s why. When most of us learn our mother tongue, we pick it up naturally at a very young age – including grammar. Think about it. If someone says, “Anyone wants to grab pizza tonight?” You know that it’s wrong. (It should be, “Anyone want to grab pizza tonight?”) You know when something sounds off, but I bet you’d have a hard time explaining why it’s wrong. (By the way, in that example, the “does” is implicit. “Does anyone wants to grab pizza tonight?” is more clearly incorrect.) To maximize your conversations, use this time to work on your speaking skills, which are much harder to practice on your own than grammar.
Click here to browse our blog articles about grammar. We’ve written mostly about German, English, and Spanish so far, but let us know what other languages or aspects of grammar you’d like to learn about!
It’s a comprehensive 8-module course designed to help you improve every aspect of your spoken Spanish – fluency, confidence, pronunciation, and more – step by step, and enjoy doing it.
5) Prepare your conversations beforehand
Even if your topics are surface-level at first, such as:
- Where are you from?
- What are you studying?
- or Why are you learning my language?
you need to plan these discussions ahead of time. Learn how to keep your conversations alive so you don’t run out of things to say. It doesn’t take much effort. Try finding 2-3 articles online that interest you and that you could have a debate about. Or come up with deeper topics like sports or work that could lead to more follow-up questions.
6) Decide how you will handle corrections
While some people don’t mind being interrupted, others would rather save corrections for the end. Personally, I feel the latter is more productive. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Besides, today’s language learning methods are far more focused on natural, fluid conversation than they are perfect grammar and pronunciation. However, if you find yourself routinely making the same errors, it’s a good idea to revisit these issues later. (The MosaLingua apps are perfect for this!)
7) Switch up partners
It’s best to have 2-3 people you can speak with and rely on to be available when you have time to practice. After a while, you’ll learn the best methods for studying with a language partner, including the frequency and intensity of your study sessions. And you’ll be able to find partners who are looking for the same things in an exchange. It didn’t take me long to find great partners! Right now I have two Spanish conversation partners, one in Colombia and one in Spain, which gives me the extra benefit of learning both accents. And since I’ve really perfected my level of Spanish, I am setting myself up with new partners to make my Portuguese understandable.
We’ve reviewed all of the major conversation exchange websites and apps out there (scroll up for a link), but we’ve also written about how to find native speakers to practice with in your city. It’s nice to have a mix of real-life and virtual partners to practice different speaking scenarios.
Bonus Video: Rules to Make Studying with a Language Partner More Fruitful for Both Parties
Our Spanish teacher Mirari summed up these tips for you in the video below. Watch it right here or on our YouTube channel. The video is in English, but there are subtitles in 6 languages if you need them. Feel free to slow down the video speed in the Settings menu (look for this icon ⚙️).
What did you think? Subscribe to our channel for more videos like this one.
Studying with a Language Partner Is Great, But You Also Need to Practice Other Aspects of Speaking
Here are a few other articles you should read if you’re set on improving your speaking skills.
How to Improve Your Pronunciation in Any Language: Bad pronunciation is the number one source of frustration in many language partnerships, because it leads to misunderstanding. This article addresses some common misconceptions language learners have about pronunciation, plus gives you several different ways to practice it. Technique #8 should look especially familiar! 😉
How to Overcome Obstacles and Speak More Confidently: Confidence is another aspect of speaking that isn’t talked about very often. But it plays a huge role in language learning success! In this article, we wrote about psychological barriers to speaking such as shyness, fear of making mistakes, perfectionism, and more. And of course, how to get past them, gain self-confidence, and actually enjoy speaking your target language!
As always, please let us know what you’ve learned from studying with a language partner. You can also leave us a question in the comments section if you’re ready to get started on your own!