Finding a language partner can be one of the quickest ways to improve your foreign language skills, but finding one isn’t always as easy as it seems. However, if you have the right tools, you’ll find that there’s someone waiting to practise a language with you round every corner.
What is a language partner?
It may seem like an obvious question, but a language partner is somebody you practise speaking the language you’re learning with. This can be done in two ways. Either you choose someone who is also learning the language and you practise together, or you can find someone who is a native speaker of the language that you’re learning who wants to learn English and you meet up with them to speak half an hour in English and half an hour in their language. Meaning you both get the opportunity to practise speaking.
Whichever method you choose depends on you and your needs. A native speaker can be better because they can correct your mistakes and help you if you get stuck or can’t remember a word. But someone learning the same language as you can also be useful, because they’re often struggling too and will be quite patient, and you also get to spend the whole time speaking the language rather than having to switch to English.
Both partner types have their benefits and there’s no reason why you can’t find both.
Why you need a language partner
When you’re learning a language, one of the biggest reasons you’re doing it is to be able to speak the language, and you’re not going to be able to do that unless you’re getting in some good speaking practise right away.
Unfortunately, a lot of people find it intimidating to speak to locals or to put themselves out there. Native speakers aren’t always patient with you or if they know you’re an English speaker they may switch to English because it’s easier for them. This can be discouraging even for the most confident of language learners. So this is where language partners come in.
A language partner is someone who is also learning so they know how intimidating it can be, or difficult, and they’re likely to be very patient with you. You can also build a relationship with this person as you both learn and grow together. Many language partners end up becoming life long friends.
How to find language partners
Luckily for you there are many platforms that you can use to find a language partner both online and offline. These are some of our favourite ways, but if you have any other recommendations remember to tell us about them in the comments below:
Italki is a website where you can find people who are learning your native language and speak the language you’re trying to learn and arrange language exchanges with them. You can specify gender, nationality and language to find someone who suits your needs.
I would recommend using this to find people who you want to do language exchanges with over skype.
HelloTalk is an app to find language partners with and I have had most success finding people in my area and meeting up with them through this app. You can also use it to chat with them so you’re practising your writing skills in addition to your speaking skills.
Conversation Exchange is another website where you can find language partners. I have had most luck using this to find partners in my area then arranging to meet up with them and practise in a coffee shop or somewhere public.
If you’re studying a language at a university then it’s very likely your university will have a system or a group where you can meet up with some of the international students. It’s definitely worth checking to see if this kind of service is available at your University and it’s also a great way to expand your social group.
The website meet up often has a language exchange in most cities. If you go along to these, then although the first few can sometimes be awkward or uncomfortable you often meet people who you get along with and who you could realistically develop an exchange situation with.
If you’re currently learning in a school, then chances are as well as your regular classes, there’ll be conversation classes you can go to. Or if your school doesn’t have them, then there’s still a chance there will be conversation classes somewhere in your area. This is a great way to practise speaking and with a teacher there it prevents those uncomfortable silences.
If you don’t want to pay long term for classes, then you can go to a few and if you meet people who you get along with you can arrange to meet up with them outside of class to continue practising your language skills with.
Top tips for success with your language partner
Find someone at a similar level to you
Even if you’re learning different languages, it can be really useful to find someone who is at a similar level to you. This way they know what kind of things you’re experiencing at the moment and they’re be able to give you what you need in terms of patience and understanding.
No taking over the conversation
Don’t take over the conversation and don’t stay with someone who takes over the conversation. It’s very easy if one of you is shy or nervous for the other person to compensate and talk more. If you have a partner who’s reluctant to speak then don’t just use it as an opportunity to practise your language learning, ask them simple questions and help bring them out of their shell.
Similarly if you’re having a conversation with someone and they won’t stop talking and won’t give you a chance to speak then find someone else. You’re not a teacher and you’re not being paid. You need to find yourself a partner who is willing to help you as well.
You might not feel comfortable with your partner and that’s ok
You will have some experiences where you just don’t feel comfortable with your partner. Maybe you don’t gel with them or maybe you have nothing in common. If this happens then you really don’t need to worry, it’s perfectly normal. You’re not friends with everyone the same way you’re not going to want to be everyone’s language partner.
If you don’t feel comfortable with them, don’t worry, don’t force it, just look for someone else. You’ll be doing both of you a favour this way.
Prepare questions and conversation topics in advance
I cannot recommend this more. If you don’t know the person and you’re not confident in the language then chances are you’re either going to run out of things to say, or you’re going to feel a bit awkward at some point. Having questions or conversation topics prepared in advance can really save you in these situations where you might otherwise have a painful silence to deal with.
It’s just a good way to keep the conversation flowing and to keep everyone feeling happy and at ease.
Download their apps
If you’re learning a language like Chinese then you’re going to hear ‘do you have wechat?’ over and over again. Although we don’t tend to use apps like that if you’re learning a language where the people use different communication tools then consider downloading those tools to make it easier for your language partner.
Now you’ve found your language partner, read our article on how to practise speaking, along with some topics you can use if the conversation is feeling a bit awkward or difficult.
How do you normally find a language partner? Do you find it easy or difficult to find them where you live? Do you find it’s easier to find a language partner in some languages over others? Tell us all about your experiences here.