How often do you practice your English outside of your English class? If you rarely have a chance to practice, it's time to change that! For a fun and free way to get some extra English conversation practice during your free time, why not try an English language exchange? A language exchange is different from an English lesson because you don't work with a professional teacher. Instead, you meet with a native English speaker who is trying to learn your native language and you split the time between English and your native language. The main goal of a language exchange is not to learn the structure of a language. The goal is to take the skills you learn with your English tutor and use them in conversation practice with your language exchange partner. Doing this is absolutely crucial if you want to improve your English. Does this sound like it could work for you? Keep reading to learn how to find your language exchange partner.
What To Expect From a Language Exchange:
Don't expect your language exchange partner to be a teacher or to prepare any kind of "lesson" to help you learn English. Unless your English is at a very high level, a language exchange shouldn't replace your English class. Instead, you can do a language exchange a few times a week in addition to your English class. During your language exchange, you can practice the new grammar points, expressions or pronunciation that you learned in your English class.
To Make It Work...
Language exchanges don't always work. Over the past 4 years that I have been learning Spanish, I have participated in some excellent, long term language exchanges but others have been disappointing. Here are some things that you should look for when you choose an English language exchange partner.
Look For Someone Who:
1) Is reliable- Look for someone who shows up when they say they will and does not cancel often.
2) Can meet regularly- If you choose a partner who is too busy, you will not get the consistent practice that you need. I recommend you choose someone who can meet at least once per week. If that's not possible, choose a few different partners. The goal is consistency.
3) Is fun to speak with- This should be fun or you will not be motivated to continue! You need to have a friendly connection with your language exchange partner. You should look forward to meeting with the person every week. If you get bored with your partner, find someone new.
4) Is willing to share the time evenly between your language and his or her language. If you spend a full hour speaking in your native language and only 15 minutes speaking in English, you will not get the conversation practice that you need. Meet with someone who can be fair with the time.
5) Is able to correct your mistakes- Again, this is not an English lesson, so don't expect your exchange partner to prepare a lesson, but he or she should at least correct any mistakes that you make during the conversation. It's important to identify mistakes and start saying them correctly, especially during conversation practice!
6) Is a native speaker- It is best to work with a native speaker for your language exchange because he or she will be able to help you with regional phrases and sayings. You can also learn a lot about your partner's culture through your language exchange if you work with a native speaker.
Where To Find Your English Language Exchange Partner:
1) Ask your friends, colleagues or English teacher- The best way to find an exchange partner is through a personal connection. Let the people in your life know that you are looking for a way to practice your conversational English every week and they might know the right person for you.
2) Craigslist- This is the first place that most people in Boston and New York look for a language exchange. I have found some great language exchanges through Craigslist. Post an ad or respond to an ad under "community"..."activities". (see the note on safety below).
3) Meetup.com- Attending a meetup with international members could be a great way to find an exchange. Try a world travelers' meetup and find someone who is interested in your country and is perhaps planning a trip there. You can help them learn your language while preparing them for their trip!
4) My Language Exchange- I haven't tried this site, but it is worth a look. Check it out and let me know if the website works for you.
A Note On Safety:
Most language exchanges happen in large cities and you most likely will not know the person before you meet up with him or her. For that reason, it is a good idea to keep safety in mind. Always meet in a public place like a library, park or cafe. Use your common sense and if you don't feel comfortable with the person, look for another partner, there are plenty of options in the big cities like Boston and New York.
Is a Language Exchange Right For You?
So if you are looking for some extra conversation practice a few times per week in addition to your English class and you don't mind spending part of the time speaking slowly and clearly for the other person in your native language, an exchange could be a great opportunity for you. Give it a try and let us know how it works out!