5 tips for a successful language exchange

Language exchanges are an essential part to your language learning journey.  They not only allow you to practice the words, phrases, and grammar points that you have been learning but they also allow you to familiarize yourself with the sounds of your target language. Despite the enormous benefits from language exchanges many people still find them intimidating and sometimes overwhelming.


Websites like italki and applications like Tandem make it easier than ever to find a language exchange partner.  If the thought of speaking to a complete stranger in a language you are still not yet comfortable with still fills you with anxiety you can breath easy.  Both of these platforms allow you to message people prior to engaging in a video or audio call which allows you to find someone you feel comfortable with before taking your exchange to the next level.

Despite the enormous benefits from language exchanges many people still find them intimidating and sometimes overwhelming.

So whether you are meeting your partner in your local coffee shop for a one on one exchange or using an online platform to connect to native speakers; here are 5 tips to make the most out of your first language exchange.

Prepare a “Cheat Sheet”

Creating a list of commonly used phrases and words is key to maximizing your learning during a language exchange.  You will want to use your target language as much as possible during the exchange and reverting back to your native language anytime you need to ask for clarification or further explanation will only hinder your learning.  By keeping a small list of essential phrases you ensure that you are using your target language as much as possible.  After a few short interactions, these phrases will become second nature and you will be able to change your cheat sheet to suit your needs.

french cheat sheet

Here are some examples that you can use to get your sheet started – of course you would have to translate the phrases into your target language.

Can you speak more slowly please?

Can you repeat that please?

I don’t understand.

How do you say _________ in (Target Language)?

Can you write that please?

Wait a moment please.

In addition to this short list you can add any vocabulary that gives your trouble or would be helpful to your current learning goal.  This could be a list of a few verbs you want to practice or important adjectives you would like to learn.

A great place to look for essential phrases in your target language is Omniglot where you can find phrases in nearly every major language.

Establish parameters

In order to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to learn through the exchange you should establish time parameters before you begin your exchange.  With your partner, agree upon the duration of the exchange and the length of time you will spend speaking each language.  Some people find it best to speak for 30 minutes total with 15 minutes spent in each language.  But you can do what ever works best for you and your partner.

If this is your first attempt to speak in your target language, try switching after 5 minutes and increase the duration to 10 minutes during your next exchange.

AYJG8J Stopwatch

If this is your first attempt to speak in your target language, try switching after 5 minutes and increase the duration to 10 minutes during your next exchange.  The important thing to remember here is that language exchanges are meant to be mutually beneficial and as such, you should try to allocate the time equitably to both parties.  This helps to create a successful relationship with your language partner and allows both people to progress.

Have a clear learning goal

Before you start your language exchange it important to remember to define a clear learning goal for your session.  This could be something as simple as “use the verb to believe in a sentence” or as ambitious as “speak continuously for 10 minutes without using my native language”.


A learning goal will help you stay on track as you progress in your target language.  Especially if you are consistently changing language partners, it can be easy to fall into repetition with your language exchanges.  Typically the first 15-20 minutes of an exchange with a new partner is spent getting you know each other and without a clear learning goal it is easy to plateau early on.

Determine your learning needs and write down your goal.  This will help you stick to and achieve it during your exchange.

Make a list of conversation starters

For most people it is easy to talk to someone else in your native language.  Thoughts and ideas come more naturally and conversations tend to flow without too much difficulty.  But when we are focused on speaking a new language, worried about making mistakes, and anxious about talking to someone new; it is easy for conversations to fizzle out especially if the both parties are not very strong in at least one common language.

To avoid this situation and keep the conversations flowing naturally you can keep a short list of conversation starters.  Try to customize them to your level of proficiency, this way, when you and your partner hit a wall or lull in the conversation you can turn to one of these questions to kick things off again.


What are you doing this weekend?

What is your favourite food?

How many people are in your family?

What is your favourite book?

What is your daily routine?


What is your biggest fear?

How do you celebrate your birthday?

What do you miss about being a kid?

If you won the lottery what would you do?

What is something that is unique to your country or culture?

Take Notes

Don’t be afraid to take notes during your language exchange!  Taking notes allows you to review the material after the exchange is finished and will help you identify learning goals for next time.  If you write down all of the vocabulary that is unfamiliar to you, you can use it to create flashcards or generate Goldlist head-lists which will make learning the words much easier and quicker.

notesIn addition to writing down vocabulary, you can also take note of grammar points that are particularly troublesome.  If you notice that during your exchange you had a great deal of difficulty talking about something in the future tense you can make a note to review that after the lesson and then incorporate that into your goals for your next exchange.

So what are you waiting for…

Language exchanges are one of the best free ways to practice your target language and with these 5 tips you should have no trouble making your next exchange a positive and productive experience.  Check out the sites below for some places to start looking for language partners in your area:






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