Have you ever met up with someone and had one hour of conversation in their language before switching to yours..? Language exchanges – or tandems – can be officially organised events, or simply done through you and a ‘language buddy’ who you’ve met online or through your social circles.
The main advantages of language exchanges are:
- You get to meet someone new and hopefully it’ll be someone you click with
- You can do whatever you want together! You could speak at a cafe, or go hiking, hit the beach, go shopping, whatever interests you both!
- It’s a relaxed way to speak a foreign language, as it’s not in a school, institution or formal situation
- You can learn about a new culture
- Sometimes they’re used as another way of meeting and dating someone, so be aware of what you’re really looking for when setting up your meetings!
- It’s free!
- If you’re open to it, you can meet people from all walks of life, people that you might not otherwise meet
Where Can I Find Someone To Speak With..?
Facebook is a good place to start. Type in “English” and then the name of your city (eg “Belgrade English”) and then check which results come up. Also try it in your own language, especially if you’re not in an English-speaking country.
Find out the main online portal for foreigners in your city or country. For example, expats.cz in the Czech Republic has a classifieds section where people look for help in learning English.
Meet Up.com is less common in the Czech Republic but in other countries it’s big. I’ve used it for French meet ups in Melbourne, and it’s usually been pretty good.
Other sites where you can find a language pal:
- My Language Exchange allows you to choose based on their linguistic level, country of origin and age.
- italki specialise more in teaching, but there’s also a page for finding a language partner
As well, you can find someone by going to cafes where proficient English speakers hang out and asking them in person if they’d be interested to have a language tandem with you.
Possible places include American-style cafes, indie cinemas, bookshops, and even dance studios. For example, there are likely to be many foreigners involved in the Latin dance community in your city.
On that note, a language tandem could well end up more flexible – I once had dance lessons with a salsa teacher in exchange for English!
You can also try looking for a language partner on a regular online dating website – but of course, you’re saying that you’re looking for more in the relationship.
So Are They Worth It?
It depends. Certainly, if you’re upfront and vulnerable about what you both want, it’ll go a lot better!
If you’re a ‘native’ or proficient speaker of English and you’ve just arrived in the Czech Republic, or a country where you don’t know a word of the local language, these tandems are a nice way to meet a local. It’s a start.
But if you want to really learn the language, I don’t recommend them to native speakers of English.
Here’s why – quite often your language partner is not experienced at all in helping beginners, and in the end it becomes just 2 full hours of conversation in English.
On this note, when I see a Czech person advertise for a language partner, they usually *only* write in English and not their language as well. It’s already a red flag that they’re not thinking of the other person’s needs.
The exchange can break down quickly if it’s not 50-50.
However, if your language partner is really supportive and can make sure you have one full hour of Czech in exchange for one full hour of English, then sure, give it a go!
So this is my big tip to you if you’re offering a language other than English. The exchange usually won’t work if you’re not willing to speak your language as well. So while you’ve been learning English for 10 or so years, please be patient and helpful if you’re doing your tandem with an English speaker who’s at a lower level (or vice-versa).
Again, the language exchange ultimately depends on how you two get on, and if you’ve chatted a bit beforehand just to find out if you’re compatible. That’s why it’s important to say more about who you are, so that you can get an idea as to how well it can work.
What About If You Could Double Your Hours..?
Personally, I don’t do language tandems. Why? Well, one reason is that if I really want to improve in a particular language, I’ll find either a qualified teacher or a proficient speaker of the language for a lesson or conversation class.
Compare the difference. Imagine you have 100 hours of meeting your language partner(s) over a period of a year. That should mean 50 hours’ conversation in your target language, compared to 100 if you’d organised a teacher or tutor to help you instead.
This big difference can add up!
However, I think most people do language exchanges to find out about a different culture, and to make new friends or even find a boyfriend/girlfriend.
That’s why I still say give it a go and see for yourself!
Here are some final notes and tips:
- Meet at least a few potential language partners, and stick with those who are actively helping you while you are actively helping them! It might take a few goes to find the right person but be aware too that with a bit of checking and negotiating, most should work out fine.
- If you don’t want to continue with the exchange, please handle the matter sensitively.
- If you feel you’re not getting enough time during the exchange, definitely chat to your partner about this. Maybe you can agree that the next session will only be in English, for example.
- You most likely want to have fun, so with the freedom that you have away from a school setting, you can combine the language exchange with doing something that you really enjoy! For example, if your language partner has just arrived from New York, you can show them your favourite castle in the area, or a gallery, or favourite park.
- There are no rules really, except that it should involve swapping languages, so use your creativity to make it happen and have fun!
- If you’re more serious about learning something, you could each prepare a topic for discussion, and practise being teachers.
- Ask your language partner on how much they want you to correct them or how much feedback to give. You could choose to correct them on their most frequent mistakes, and write down any cool phrases and collocations they they will find useful.
- If the English speaker is new in town, and you’re not used to helping them with beginners’ level Czech (or whatever the target language is), then have a think about what other ways you could help them integrate. Maybe they could use some help at the bank? Or sending something back home at the post office? Just by doing these everyday things with them you can help with a few phrases, and also make them feel a little more comfortable in their new country.
Over To You
Have you taken part in any language exchanges? Can I add some more tips in how to make them going better..?
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