What to Look for in a Partner
- a native speaker
- at your skill level
With the internet, you shouldn’t have any problem finding such a conversation partner for most languages. This is especially true because so many speakers of other languages want to learn English. Take advantage of this!
Find a Native Speaker
This will probably rule out any friends you have that speak the language. That’s OK. You probably don’t want to study with your friends. You already know a lot about it each other and the practice will feel artificial.
More importantly, to learn proper and idiomatic usage of a language, you need someone with native proficiency. Some non-native speakers achieve native proficiency, but they are rare.
Find Someone At or Below Your Level
Do you consider yourself a beginner with the language? I bet you’re afraid that you won’t be able to have a conversation with someone who is also a beginner with English. However, your instincts on this are probably wrong.
Some of the most productive conversations I’ve had were when I was a beginner and my conversation partner was as well. Why?
- Beginners are likely to be more forgiving and patient of you.
- There’s less temptation to slip into English.
- You’ll feel less pressure and have more fun.
Almost every problem I’ve encountered with language conversation partners can be explained by an imbalance in power. When there’s a large enough imbalance in skill levels, the conversation will naturally drift into the language of the less skilled member.
Be aware that most people you meet are going to have a higher level of English skill than you will of their language, unless you have been studying their language for a while. Increasingly, movies and culture from the United States is penetrating more and more countries. So even if your conversation partner didn’t study English in school, they have probably been exposed to it in different amounts throughout their life.
Schedule No More than 60 Minutes
Having a conversation will be tiring. Don’t expect to spend more than 1 hour for the first meeting. If you get along well with your conversation partner, you can plan for a longer second meeting.
Stressful conversations can actually be counter-productive to learning. Some conversation partners will think that they’re being helpful by forcing you to speak more in their language (they’ll think that they’re helping you overcome your fears or shyness). Unfortunately, this kind of pressure harms your ability to think clearly, recall words, and form sentences (further raising your stress). Gently let them know that you’ll speak in their language when you’re ready and comfortable.
Also, some partners will think they’re being helpful by correcting all of your mistakes. Tell them that you’re not concerned about speaking perfectly and ask them to avoid correcting you. In my experience, even when you’ve asked someone not to correct you, they will point out any mistakes that are big enough to hinder communication.