Language Exchange – The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need
"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." – Michael Jordan
What if I told you that you can learn to speak a language fluently through the Internet, and that you can do it quickly and easily from the comfort of your own home?
Well, there is a way.
It is called a language exchange.
A language exchange is well, an exchange. It is a collaboration you establish with a person to practice your respective target languages.
Thirty minutes of your language for another thirty minutes of his or hers. Hell, even 1 hour. 2 hours each, if you like it.
Time literally flies when you enjoy what you are doing, doesn’it?
And time literally does fly whenever I have a language exchange in Hungarian, Polish or Greek.
I literally have a blast, and on top of that, I learn tons.
Let me know show you how you can have a blast too.
The Dream of Speaking is Just One Click Away
What looked like a dream was within reach.
Actually, to be precise, it was one click away.
That’s what I realized when, in 2012, I started learning Polish after a short visit to the country.
In Poznan, a nice Polish city, I made friends with Michal, a passionate language learner and a nice guy.
As soon as I got back to Rome, I decided to have a weekly chat with him, one-on one.
We would exchange my French for his Polish.
All we needed to do was meet on Skype, chat, and keep going.
But let me backtrack for a second.
I was lucky enough that I met a person in real life and then moved on speaking with him through the Internet.
Meeting foreigners is relatively easy for me, since I live in continental Europe and travel quite a lot.
But finding a person who speaks your target language in real life (and having a language exchange on the Internet) might not be that easy.
That’s where the Internet changed everything.
Nowadays all you need to do is to learn:
Let’s take a look at these together.
The Places to Meet New Friends
The Internet is a treasure trove to find pretty much everything you want, and language learning is no exception.
In particular, there are countless places where you can find people to have a language exchange with.
There are so many websites, in fact, that it would be counterproductive to list them all here.
So, for the sake and brevity, let me just point to those which I’ve used myself, to great effect:
Italki is a platform of online tutors, but it is also a real online community. So you can choose to find a teacher, a tutor, or a language partner (also known as a language tandem). You can have formal or informal chats, and the great thing is that you can take a look at people’s profiles, and even read reviews and comments from other users on teacher profiles.
Also, most teachers have videos where you can see the person actually speaking - which is an easy way to assess whether that person might be a good fit for you.
Conversation Exhange is a simple platform where you can find people. The cool thing is that you can use filters to find people who are willing to help you with your target language in exchange for yours and you can even filter those who live in your own city, and potentially meet them in real life.
The Person Whom You Talk to Counts
Never forget that the Internet is just a tool.
The best resource you have is and always will be human beings.
Let your language tandem be than more just a person you talk to for the sake of learning a foreign language.
In Polish, I have shared with my exchange partner my frustrations when my love story was not taking the turn I expected.
In Hungarian, I’ve enthusiastically described the beauty of space travel and landing on unknown worlds with my Hungarian tutor.
In Russian, I’ve shared daydreams about learning many languages and exploring the world with my friend Amir.
I have understood that it is not language that drives emotions, but emotions that drive language.
Let your language tandem be your source of inspiration when you are willing to learn, your source of comfort, when you are sad, and someone you can share your thoughts, hopes, and dreams with. And the other way around.
Share yourself and let your language tandem share himself or herself with you.
That’s why it is absolutely paramount that you find a person who is nice, willing to give and not just take, and who is reliable.
Take the proper time to find someone who is your perfect fit. You won’t always find them on the first try, though, so if you’re unsure about your partner, don’t hesitate to move forward and look for another one if you need to.
Let’s look at a few ways you can make sure that happens.
Making a Language Deal
Finding a person to talk to online is pretty easy, but finding someone whom you like and who works well with you can be quite difficult.
Once you have found a platform you like, make sure that:
A good profile should be:
Let me show you examples of both good and bad language exchange profiles.
Here’s a short one:
Hi. I am Luca. I would like to practice English and I can help you with Italian in exchange.
I understand that people’s attention span has dramatically dropped in recent times, this type of profile is so brief that it provides hardly any useful information at all. I have read countless times profiles where the person has left the bare minimum of information because, well, they probably they didn’t feel like writing that much.
But ten more minutes invested in crafting an appealing profile can make a huge difference in the long run. You should think of your user profile on any platform as an investment for the future. You never know who is out there looking to find someone just like you.
Ok, now, what about a longer profile?
Hi. I am Luca. I would like to practice English and I can help you with Italian in exchange. I live in Rome if you want to meet and have a cup of coffee!
This is better, but still, not very interesting.
What about this one?
Hi. I’m Luca! I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. I am a passionate language learner who LOVES meeting new people and talking about pretty much everything, especially cosmology, languages, history, and psychology! I believe that every person is a universe well worth exploring. I would be thrilled to speak to you on Skype or—even better—to meet with you in person here in Rome so we can explore my beautiful city together. If you speak Russian, Hungarian, Polish or Greek don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
A bit more appealing, don’t you think?
Look at other people’s profile for inspiration and ask yourself: after reading this profile, do I feel like contacting this person?
You should ask yourself that when you craft your own profile.
Reaching Out to Potential Exchange Partners
Writing a good profile is important, but you can’t expect people to flock to you just because you wrote a few facts about yourself. Things simply don’t work this way.
What you need to do is be proactive and take the time to look for people and send them messages.
Have you noticed how I have made sure I have added personal information in the last profile I have written?
Think about it.
That is not merely an exercise to share who I am. I am literally leaving “hooks” that inspire people to contact me. Specifically, I like to leave references to my passions, hobbies, and general interests so that people who share those things are motivated to get in touch.
Take the time to identify two to three people you really would like to have an exchange with. Look at their profiles and write in a personal way.
In particular, you should avoid the mistake of making one single message and sending it to lots of people at once. Instead, use information found on a person’s profile to create a unique message, just for them.
For example, if you discover in a girl’s profile that she loves cooking, you should make it clear that you’ve read her profile by actually mentioning cooking within your message.
Something as simple as: “Hey! I see you like to cook! Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, too” can make a huge difference.
On a final note, I wanted to add that sometimes even the nicest message won’t earn you a reply from the people you contact.
If you get a refusal or simply no response, don’t take it personally, and just keep looking. People tend to have their own reasons for not replying—which, for the most part, have nothing to do with you.
Making the Language Deal Last
Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve found someone to talk to and you’ve both established a time to do the language exchange.
Now all you need to do is speak to them, with purpose.
I have already shared some tips on how to speak a new language fluently, so read that article after this one.
Let me share some tips on how to make your chats literally memorable and how to make them last for a long time.
Here are a few not-so-obvious things to keep in mind when you have a language exchange.
1. Be Willing to Both Give and Receive Language Help
It is easy to forget that you are doing a language exchange. Your language tandem is not a tutor, teacher or coach. It’s not their job to just sit there and help you—they’re there because they would like some help, too.
So, make sure that you never lose sight of the fact that both of you should get value out of the time you spend together.
Be willing to give and not just take.
For example, make sure that every session has equal amounts of time dedicated to each language.
Prepare and be willing to share experiences, cultural insights, funny differences between your culture and your tandem’s, just to name a few. This generates a sense of fairness which fuels collaboration and a sense of reward on both sides.
2. Try to Meet at Least Once Per Week
Language learning is a marathon, never a sprint. In order to get good at speaking, you have to speak.
So, get into the perspective of seeing this as a long-term collaboration. To make it as fruitful as possible, you have to make it happen on a weekly basis.
Aim to meet at least once a week. Twice would be ideal.
Take the time to think beforehand on which times you want to make it happen and make sure that this is a great time for both.
Deciding on a time beforehand saves the time and energy to have to decide every week and constantly change or shift times.
3. Prepare Before Each Language Exchange Session
There is a surprising amount of people who simply have a language exchange without doing any kind of preparation beforehand, or any review afterwards.
This is usually because we treat chatting in a foreign language the same as we do in our native language. You don’t prepare anything before chatting with a friend at a bar, do you?
However, it’s one thing to casually chat over a beer, and another thing entirely to chat with the goal of improving your language skills.
Preparing your sessions can greatly impact the way language exchanges work. Preparing gives exchanges structure, and makes things easier and smoother for both you and your language partner.
There are countless ways to prepare for a language exchange, but for the sake of brevity, let me share just one:
Choose a topic you want to talk about and look up a few target language words that you think might be relevant to the conversation. Then try to use these words when chatting with your partner.
Do it and check what difference it makes!
4. Find a Place to Mutually Store and Share Exchange Notes
Another thing that can make a lot of difference is to set up a common space where to write things, corrections or suggestions. Often, people leave feedback on the chat of Skype or Google Hangout, with the result that information gets spread out and it is difficult to save or inconvenient to retrieve.
A very easy, fast and very convenient way to set things up is simply create a common Google Doc file. With Google Docs, you can write everything in a single, shared location that is easily accessible for both you and your partner—and you can do it live, during your chat!
5. Record and Review Every Session
Repeating things helps a lot. So, on top of having your language partner write everything on the Google Doc, make sure that you also record the audio of each session. In this way you have script and audio that you can review a few days later.
This is crucial if you want to easily reinforce what you are learning, because we tend to forget 80 if not 90% of what we learn unless we repeat it.
Making it Happen
So there you have it.
A language exchange is a fantastic way to improve your language skills.
Nowadays, it is possible to have a language exchange wherever you are by using the Internet.
You can find countless platforms which give you the possibility of finding your ideal language tandem.
The Internet is just a means to an end, the most important resource is, and will always be, human beings.
Make sure you find your optimal language tandem by building an attractive and detailed user profile, and make sure you select a number of people whom you want to make an exchange with.
Send a few catchy messages, be patient, and see who responds.
Once you have found the person you’re looking for, make sure that you organize things in advance, both in terms of scheduling and the structure of each meeting.
Make sure that you have language exchanges every week, and aim to keep doing them over the long-term.
Transform language exchange into a human exchange, an experience in which learning your respective language is a consequence of learning about yourself, about your tandem and about your respective languages.
Make your language dream come true, one language exchange at a time.
Written by Luca Lampariello