You know the alphabet. You can say “Hello, how are you?” and probably understand a few simple phrases. Maybe you even have some language lessons under your belt. So, what’s the next step in your language learning journey? Why, speaking the language, of course.
This might seem obvious enough, but for many, finding someone to practice a new language with isn’t exactly a walk in the park. What? You don’t know any Spanish-speaking people? No French speakers in your kickboxing class? Not one German speaker in your book club? No problem.
Enter the modern language exchange — the perfect way to practice speaking and understanding a new language outside your textbook or language classroom. Because learning a language isn’t just about new words, grammar or gaining reading comprehension (though, that’s important too) — it’s about actually being able to have a conversation in the language of your choice; it’s about moving beyond “Hello, how are you?” and getting into the topics that really matter to you (whatever they might be).
So what is a language exchange, exactly?
“Language exchange” is a rather broad term encompassing everything from study abroad programs to online tandem partnering. So you want to learn Spanish — great. Chances are, there’s someone on the other side of town (or the internet) who’s trying to brush up on her English skills (you (English) + them (Spanish) = bilingualism). Looking to deepen your understanding of Italian? The perfect study abroad program is waiting for you in Rome.
Language exchanges are a great way to move beyond language classes or self-paced learning — it’s a powerful supplementary tool that can help you get conversational in a new language, fast. After all, the more opportunities you have to actually use your new language, the more fluent you’ll become!
But how do I find a language exchange?
Finding a language exchange is a lot easier than you might think. With a bit of patience and a few simple google searches, you’ll be speaking your new language in no time. Here are a few tips for finding the perfect language exchange — both at home, and abroad:
Ahh, the classic study abroad semester. Sure, study abroad students don’t always make the best… students, but the age-old language exchange is really about immersing yourself in a new language and culture — not spending hours at the library. After all, when was the last time you heard a friend talking about the classes they took while studying abroad? Friends returning from a language exchange abroad regale you with tales of latin lovers, of wild adventures and of lifelong friendships made abroad.
And just imagine all the new memories you’ll make studying abroad: discussing Proust with a Parisian in a swanky cafe, talking Guadi with a Spanish architect in front of the Sagrada Família, exchanging ideas about Renaissance painters with an Italian artist in Florence. Whatever your language goals, be it to have simple conversations or to reach total fluency, learning a language abroad can be a great way to hone your skills.
Not a university student? No problem. You can still learn a language abroad through a structured program (e.g. language classes), and no — you won’t be the only person over 22 there. Just check out the International Partners for Study Abroad (IPSA) program — it accepts students of all ages and offers language learning abroad in over 62 countries worldwide.
Stellar student or not, studying a language abroad is the perfect way to discover, through experience and a bit of adventure, an entirely different point of view. Sure, there is some “studying” involved, but speaking the language and learning the culture is the point here.
Face-to-face language exchange partner
Depending on your location, a face-to-face language exchange partner (or “tandem partner”) might just be your best bet at sharpening your language skills. Finding a tandem language exchange, or even a tandem group, is a lot easier than you might think. Chances are, unless you live in a rural area, there’s someone nearby who can either fluently speak the language you’re looking to learn, or at least has some knowledge that they’d be willing to share. Plus, it’s a great way to make new friends! Looking to find someone in your area? Check out conversationexchange.com. Here, you can easily search for a tandem partner based on your native language, target learning language and location — all for free! Can’t find a match in your area? No problem — read on!
Online Language exchange partner
The language partner experience doesn’t end at your local Starbucks. Online, you’ll find a wealth of possibilities for virtual tandem partnering, both free and paid. What better way to learn Spanish than to speak with someone from Barcelona? Or Italian with a real Venetian? Plus, this isn’t just a great option for those who live in remote areas — online language exchanges are easy, convenient ways to get talking fast in your new language for everyone.
Check out Tandemspartners.org, an easy, free way to find an online tandem partner. Just enter your native language and the language you’d like to learn, and TandemPartners will match you based on your specific language combination. Soon, you’ll be able to say more than just ¿Dónde está el baño?
Language Travel Providers
Finding the right language exchange or study abroad program can be a bit daunting — that’s why language travel providers do the heavy lifting for you. Language travel providers, or language travel agencies, match you with official, structured language exchange and study abroad programs both at home and abroad. What are the advantages to using a language travel provider? Convenience and reliability. Not only do these services make it easy to find the right program for you, but most vet their providers to make sure that their clients get access to only the very best possible programs out there. Just check out Studytravel.com. Plug in your dates and the country you’d like to visit, and Study Travel will find a language exchange program that’s perfect for you.
Need a bit more inspiration before committing to a language exchange program? Take a look at Germain’s success story here. Before starting an internship in mechanical engineering in the United States, Germain from Benin started to worry that his English wasn’t up to par. In his blogpost, Germain discusses his experiences learning English with different tandem partners from around the world. As he describes in his blogpost, online sessions ranged from 30 minutes to 1 hour, and typically started with a short online chat (to practice writing and reading), followed by a face-to-face online conversation (to practice speaking and comprehension). With the help of speaking partners diverse in age, gender and nationality, Germain was able to improve his English in a relatively short period of time and gain the confidence he needed.
Paired with a language exchange or study abroad program, the Babbel app is the perfect way to supplement your learning in 14 different languages. Babbel makes learning languages fun, easy and convenient for everyone — so you can learn anytime, anywhere, and at a price that won’t break the bank. And with tons of courses featuring a range of useful topics, you’ll get the foundation you need to start speaking the language like you’ve always wanted to.