Language Exchange

Language exchange is a great way to practice Japanese.  The basic idea is that you someone who speaks Japanese and who is learning a language that you speak.  You meet up with them, on Skype, for example, and you spend part of the time talking in each language.  You correct each other’s mistakes and you help each other out with vocabulary and grammar.  If you don’t happen to live near any native speakers, a language exchange can be a big help.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though.

Not everyone is a great teacher.

Just because someone speaks Japanese as their native language does not mean that they really understand the finer points of grammar, and it doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to explain why what you just said wasn’t quite right.  You can still get a lot out of the experience, though, so don’t let that hold you back.

If your native language is not one a lot of people want to learn, you’ll have trouble finding partners.

I happen to speak English, and a lot of people want to learn English.  If, instead, I spoke a rarer language, I might not find any Japanese speakers who were trying to learn it.  Still, you never know.

Language exchanges are for language exchange.

They aren’t for finding a new girlfriend or boyfriend.  Language exchange sites are not dating sites, and some of them police themselves fairly well trying to get rid of users who are there for some reason other than learning a language.  Don’t be creepy.

Lots of people are (unnecessarily) frightened of language exchanges.

You have just fired up Skype or FaceTime or whatever and you suddenly find someone else looking at you.  They don’t speak your language all that well, and you don’t speak their language all that well.  Have fun.  Seriously, don’t be timid.  Get out there and talk and make mistakes and practice.  It can seem scary the first time, but that goes away pretty quickly.

Language Exchanges are not for learning the basics, they are for conversation practice…

…so you need to able to converse at least a little bit.  You need to have a minimum level of competence before you try a language exchange.  Don’t expect your language exchange partner to teach you hiragana or how to construct a simple sentence in Japanese.  Wait until you are at least an upper beginner before trying it out.

You don’t need to be fluent to do a language exchange.

On the other hand, don’t wait for too long to get started.  Once you do get to that advanced beginner level, jump right in.  Your Japanese will improve by leaps and bounds because you are using it and that’s the main thing.  (And, hey, if you want to start earlier, go for it.)

They are ただ (free)!

If a site wants to charge you for a language exchange, leave it and go somewhere else.  There are plenty of free sites out there.

There are lots of language exchange sites and apps out there.

They’re easy to find.  Have a look and have some fun.

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