If you’re learning a foreign language, you’ll know that one of the best ways to improve is to interact with a native speaker. But, if you don’t have friends who speak your target language, you might be finding it difficult to get enough practice. This is where a tandem language exchange comes in. You get to practice your target language while helping someone else learn your native language. Many exchanges are done online so you don’t even have to leave the room to improve your language skills. Here are six places you can find a tandem exchange partner.
How does a tandem language exchange work?
Let’s say you’re from the US and you want to learn German. You find a native German speaker who wants to learn English, your native language. You become language partners and help each other learn. There are usually no fixed rules when it comes to language exchanges but it’s common to spend 30 minutes interacting in one language and then 30 minutes in the other. Remember, the person you’re speaking to is usually not a qualified teacher and they won’t be able to explain grammar or pronunciation points in depth. (But you might pick up some great slang!)
Perhaps the best-known place to find a tandem exchange partner is Tandem. This free tandem language exchange app has millions of active users, and it makes it possible to meet people from all over the world. You can search for partners by location, language and interests, so it’s easy to find someone interesting to talk to.
The app looks modern and cool, and it’s simple to use. Users of tandem.net mostly send text messages to each other and there’s a tool to allow you to quickly correct your partner’s message. The drawback of this app is that, while voice messages and video chat are possible, they’re not used that often.
HelloTalk is another slick tandem language exchange app that’s well worth checking out. They claim to have over 30 million users, so finding someone to talk to shouldn’t be difficult. The text tools are great, and you can also video chat and send voice notes. If you’re learning a language that uses a different alphabet from yours, you can turn on the transliteration option to see romanized pronunciations.
One of the best features is the ability to switch on the “Language Exchange mode”, which will notify you when it’s time to switch languages. This means you don’t need to awkwardly bring it up yourself. For most learners, the free app will be sufficient. But if you want to learn more than one language, you should get a subscription, which costs $6.99 per month.
The downside of this app is that a lot of people don’t build long-lasting relationships with their language exchange partners as there are new people to chat to all the time. (This could be a positive thing if you want to chat to as many people as possible!)
Another excellent app to find a language exchange partner is Bilingua. Bilingua focuses on matching you with a partner that you’ll get along with, which will hopefully facilitate a longer partnership. When you’re connected to your partner, the in-app bot, Shiro, will help the conversation along by sharing articles you might both be interested in and suggesting corrections. There are also games that you can play with your partners in the app.
4. The Mixxer
Want to chat via Skype? Try The Mixxer. It’s completely free to join and you can have a tandem conversation exchange with language partners from all over the world and arrange to talk to them via Skype. This is a really good way to find someone who wants to practice their speaking and improve their pronunciation. You can also post blogs on the site to practice your writing and ask for help from native speakers to correct what you’ve written.
If you don’t want to download an app, head over to MyLanguageExchange. This conversation exchange website isn’t flashy – in fact, it’s pretty old-fashioned – but it’s a great place to find millions of native speakers ready to practice their language with you. The simplest way to start is to create a profile and then find a partner to connect with via email.
But, this website gives you the chance to give your exchange a bit more structure if you want. You can chat online in a small group via their Chat Companion and follow the “Cormier Method” with lesson plans available.
6. In-person exchange
Looking to go fully traditional? Try an in-person tandem language exchange. There are lots of places you could look for partners. A popular website is meetup.com. While this website isn’t specifically for language exchanges, it helps people find others in their area who have the same interests. You can also find online exchange groups on Meetup.
If you’re at university, check the language center or message boards in the campus as international students are often looking for more ways to practice. Social networking sites like Facebook also offer the chance to join groups and find partners to speak with.
Where to find a tandem language partner
If you’re mainly looking to practice your writing skills, try one of the apps, Tandem, HelloTalk or Bilingua. For those who prefer to practice speaking, you might prefer to connect via Skype thanks to The Mixxer or My Language Exchange. Finally, in-person meetups are a chance to really throw yourself in the deep end and speak face-to-face with a native speaker. Whatever your reason for learning a language, business or pleasure, a tandem language exchange is sure to help.
Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.