As a professional language learner and teacher, I have a lot of experience with language partners: I meet regularly with a speaker of the language I’m learning to talk and have a cultural exchange. After much experimentation and decades of practice, I've learned a lot about what works for me and how to approach these exchanges!

Here are my favorite tips for making the most out of a language exchange.

Tip #1: Make language practice a 2-way street

I used to seek out partners who didn't know any English or French (the languages I know best), because I wanted to practice my new language only. But there are benefits to being open to a true language exchange, spending some time working on your new language and sharing your own language(s), too!

This "mutual" language exchange can be equally, if not more, enriching: Both parties can appreciate what it means to be a learner and can be ambassadors (and teachers!) of their own culture. This setup creates a unique energy, fostering deep investment from both you and your language partner. Sometimes you lead the conversation and will be able to showcase your personality and feel in control of your language and topic. This balance between teaching and learning can lay a strong foundation for genuine friendships and meaningful connections.

Tip #2: Repeat and record

One of my favorite techniques is using a voice recorder strategically during language practice. Record parts of your exchange for you to study from later. Here's how I like to do it:

Every time you meet, share something in the new language (like what you did yesterday), and ask your language partner to repeat it in their own words. At home, after your exchange, listen to the recording and pick out words, phrases, or even whole sentences that resonate with you. Practice these on your own, and then in your next language exchange!

This is a great way to learn not only what to say, but also how to say it! I've learned casual expressions, new vocabulary, and more "typical" ways to explain things.

Tip #3: Bring specific questions

Taking a proactive role in your language exchanges is crucial. While letting your partner guide the conversation can work well, don't hesitate to ask for customized help in an area where you feel stuck. I love to keep a log of some of my language fails, like when I try to say something but the person I’m speaking with doesn’t understand me, or when I get stuck in the middle of a sentence. 

Then, during the language exchange, I can take out my log and select one I really want to learn or understand better. I ask my partner to help me say what I want to say, I write down (or record!) their response, then I go home and practice it. The last step is that I challenge myself to use my new sentence in a conversation that week. This method will ensure your sessions are tailored to your learning needs, and it'll make your progress practical and related to your personal learning goals.

Make a change in your next language exchange!

Practicing your new language with a conversation partner can be a fun, rewarding way to apply what you learn. Try out these tips to find what works best for you!