7 ways to have a conversation exchange

When you are learning English (or any other language) one of the most important things to do is practice the language. For me practice means one thing, speaking. Yes, there are a lot of other things you have to do to learn English, but speaking English is how you get good at speaking English.

Some people are blessed with a natural ability to just go out and speak to people. I am not one of them. So for those of you like me, here are my tips on how to meet people to practice speaking with.

1.  Set up a formal conversation exchange. A conversation exchange is where you meet someone who is learning the language you speak, and speaks the language that you are learning. You can meet at a coffee shop, a bar, or anywhere else that you want to, and then just practice speaking both languages for an hour or so. There are a lot of ways to set up a conversation exchange. Some of the easiest are: put up a couple of fliers on a university campus, post a request for a conversation exchange on an online conversation exchange site.

2. Sign up for CouchSurfing to meet people. Whether you are traveling in an English speaking country, or at home in your own country you can meet lots of native English speakers on CouchSurfing. CouchSurfing isn’t just a way for people to find a free place to stay, you can also sign up to just meet people, have a coffee, and show them around your city. In fact, there are CouchSurfing groups around the world that are dedicated to helping people meet new friends, and practice speaking new languages.

3. When you meet someone for the first time go have a drink while you get to know each other (assuming you are of the appropriate age). You will probably have more to talk about once your tongue has been loosened a bit, and if you are nervous about speaking in your new language it’s an easy way to get over the jitters.

4. Look for common ground and focus on that. For example, I am a huge Metallica fan. While living in Mexico I set up a conversation exchange through an English school (I am learning Spanish). I didn’t know anything about who I was meeting (he turned out to be a shy 15 year old), but once we met I started asking him questions about what his hobbies were, what movies he liked, and what music he liked. As soon as we discovered that we were both Metallica fans the fact that we had absolutely nothing else in common didn’t matter, and we were able to have lots of conversations.

5. Bring a notebook with you. If you always have a notebook you will be able to write down new vocabulary, and write out, draw, or otherwise communicate things that are difficult for you to say in your new language.

6. If you are a native Spanish speaker use Lenguajero to meet English speakers that you can chat with online. If you are really nervous about speaking face to face with someone ease your way in by having online conversations first. You can even ease your way into those, start with just some text chatting, and work your way up to using voice and video.

7. Stick with it. When I was first learning Spanish I would have days where it seemed like every thought I wanted to communicate was unable to be put into words, where every sentence I uttered was greeted with blank or confused stares. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes. Lots of them. It is just like learning how to be good at anything else, it takes practice and mistakes to get better.

Written by August for EnglishClub | August 2009
Co-founder of Lenguajero - a free online conversation exchange community for Spanish and English speakers.

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