Where to meet language exchange partners
1. Language exchange events
Disclaimer: This post was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, so some information might not be applicable currently.
If you live in a big city, you’ll most likely be able to find a language exchange event near you. You can search on Facebook events or on Meetup for language exchanges. The one I usually attend in Singapore is called Mundo Lingo (in the photos).
Mundo Lingo is an international language exchange event held in cities across the world. It’s a place I go to get language practice in, meet fellow language learners and build new friendships. It’s been wonderful getting practice in, but there are times I get tired or feel like the exchange hasn’t been helpful.
2. Language exchange apps
Unlike an event where many people mingle and practice together, having a language partner is a lot more personal and may or may not be face to face. You can meet a language exchange partner on an app like Tandem, HelloTalk or HiNative. I’ve also met partners on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook – just reach out to fellow learners or native speakers and see if there’s someone willing to practice with you.
3. italki language lessons & exchanges
You can also get a casual language exchange partner or a professional tutor in a website like italki. Search for someone who is interested in your native language. You can arrange with this person to practice your target language for a set amount of time and then do their language, or do one language per session. You can message someone to ask if they are interested in an exchange, and then arrange when and how you want to practice together.
Making the most of language exchange sessions
Communicate your expectations. Some people are only at events to make friends and I’ve experienced many who just keep talking in English even though we have multiple languages in common. It’s important to tell them you’d like to practice a language too!
Record your conversations! I can’t stress this tip enough. Since I started audio recording my language exchange conversations, I’ve found myself remembering words a lot better. Remember to ask your partner for permission first, then you can audio or video record your sessions. I usually record on my phone and then listen back to it throughout the week.
Repeat words and phrases. Ask proactively. If you don’t know how to say something, ask your partner what the right phrase or word is. Then, repeat it back to them to ensure your pronunciation is correct. I’m an auditory learner, so I found this works really well to help me remember the words.
Give and take. People often struggle with yielding languages. You want to practice your TL; your friend wants to practice theirs. You can set time limits and practice your TL for a while and then switch to practicing theirs. I find that many successful exchange events have language tables where you only speak one language per table.
Take notes! I bring a notebook with me as well as record my sessions. It’s handy to write down new words I learn or get a partner to help me spell things, especially if it’s a language like Mandarin Chinese that doesn’t have a phonetic alphabet.
Sidenote: If you need tips on note-taking, here’s how I take notes for Korean.
Top tip: Don't be nervous, and prepare well!
You’re here to learn, and so is your language exchange partner. Take it easy. People won’t laugh at you! If you feel uncomfortable to talk in a new language, try to write a few preparatory sentences first or learn words related to what you’ll talk about.
Be open to corrections. Remember, we’re here to learn together! There’s no need to be embarrassed about making a mistake – that’s how we improve! (It’s always polite to ask someone if they’re OK with corrections before you interrupt or bombard them, though)
If they’re not serious, say bye. I’ve had a someone talk very ignorantly about South Africa to my face they she rambled on and on (in English, without giving me a chance to practice my target languages). I soon realized that they just wanted to debate useless things and wasn’t there for language practice at all. I politely excused myself and moved on to another group. That’s OK. If you have candour and are polite, it’s OK to walk away from a situation that makes you uncomfortable. The same thing goes for online language exchange. As a woman, I’ve faced uncomfortable situations on language apps before, and have found it quite beneficial to set my language partner search settings to
female only on some apps.
Schedule regular sessions. If you’re chatting to a language exchange partner online, it’s a good idea to set time in the week to intentionally practice with them (especially if you’re timezones apart). If you have a friend who is willing to practice with you in person, you can choose how many times a month or week to meet. Having a regular schedule helps you prepare conversations and review what you have learnt.