A while ago I set the first 3 month challenge for Speaking Japanese in 1 Year. A lot of it involves booking a speaking partner or teacher at least once a week (ideally twice) and practicing Japanese with them.
Even as a brand new beginner this is doable. However many beginners might not know where to start or what to do, and put it off.
This article was requested by a Patron on Patreon (ありがとう！) and covers how to get the most out of a language exchange.
Whether you’re beginner, intermediate or advanced, these tips should help!
Finding Language Partners
First of all, you might not know where to find a Japanese language partner to practice with. So I’ll quickly go over some places to find them.
Great website where you can pay for teachers over skype AND/OR find language partners to skype with. (Make it clear you’re looking for someone to skype regularly with!)
If you’ve never used italki before CLICK HERE to get $10 FREE when you sign up, buy some credits and take a lesson.
But you don’t have to buy credits for lessons if you just want to use italki to get speaking partners.
Another great website for meeting Japanese people is MeetUp! As the name implies you can find clubs (or make your own) based around different hobbies and meet with people irl.
You can find Japanese language exchange clubs, and/or find individual people to meet with outside of the club meetups.
The only down side is it’s only effective if you live in a city. If you live in the countryside there are less likely to be Japanese language groups. But you can always start one of your own!
Again, this is more for larger towns and cities, but often colleges and universities will have Japanese clubs, language exchange programs, or study exchange programs with Japanese students.
You can see if you can attend meetings or email club organizers to see if anyone would like to do a language exchange.
The only issue with this method is you’re guaranteed to get younger partners whereas some people might prefer more mature speaking partners.
Sometimes you’ll meet 1 great speaking partner, or know someone else who knows a Japanese person. Ask either of them to introduce you to more people to practice with.
About Speaking Partners
Speaking partners are NOT teachers. They have not been trained to teach you the language. You may ask them questions about Japanese grammar/language that they just don’t know.
Often Japanese speaking partners will try their best to answer any questions you may have, but they might not be able to give you a clear answer.
They want to learn your language as much as you want to learn theirs! So make sure you help them as much as you’d like them to help you.
Sometimes conversations can be scary or can dry up. I suggest finding multiple speaking partners to practice with.
Ever person is different and what you talk about will vary, exposing you to a wide range of Japanese.
Having multiple partners can be great so you still get constant speaking practice if one of your other partners is too busy.
Some Tips and Tricks When You Meet Your Speaking Partner
Set a Time Period for Speaking Each Language
Make sure you discuss in advance that you both will ONLY speak Japanese for 20-30 minutes, followed by ONLY English (or your other language) for 20-30 minutes.
This is incredibly important because if you try to have an hour of you speaking Japanese and them speaking English, then neither of you will be able to learn listening or native sentence usage.
Or your brain will tempted to take the easy route and start talking in English.
Often when one person has a stronger language ability in a language exchange that language will dominate all conversations. So you need to try and keep it balanced.
And make sure to ONLY speak in those languages during those set time periods. Even if you’re stuck try and explain what it is in Japanese, or look it up in a dictionary.
Plan What You’re Going to Talk About in Advance
If you’re a beginner this may mean talking about hobbies, interests, family, where you’ve been in the world, where you’d like to go, what you did recently, what you like to eat, etc.
For intermediate learners you can talk about what you’ve done recently or learned recently. As them about themselves, but also make sure to talk about yourself equally.
If you’re an advanced learner try and pick some news article or blog post. Or even a general topic you’re interested in. The two of you could pick different topics or the same (just in each other’s languages).
There is a whole menagerie of simple conversations you can have!
If you’re stuck for ideas though think about what you’ve been studying recently and try and use that.
Make sure your partner knows what you’re both going to be talking about in advance so they can prepare too.
Don’t actually play bingo, but a good tip I read once is to write down things you want to say and cross them off when you’ve said them.
For example, if you’ve just been learning how to talk about family write down a list of sentences you want to mention. Then cross the off if you say them.
Don’t just say them like a robot, try and move the conversation in a way so you can bring them up naturally.
If you’ve written down exactly what to say, try and practice saying them in advance, then try and say them without looking at your notes.
Read to Each Other
This might seem like a strange one but it can be good practice for both of you to chose a paragraph or something to read out loud. KEEP IT SHORT!
You can then discuss what you’ve just read, what it meant, ask questions about it, use it as spring board for conversation.
It gets you used to reading, understanding what you’ve read, then discussing the topic.
Flashcards for Each Other
Another fun idea is to make flashcards for each other.
Give them to your speaking partner to learn and have them give you some. Then practice them with each other.
Again, this can be a very short exercise because of limited time.
Message Outside of Language Exchange
Email, Facebook, LINE, whatever, try and chat to your speaking partner outside of language exchanges.
This will keep the bond between you two strong and build up a friendship.
It’s also a good way to arrange your next face to face (or skype) language exchange and what you want to talk about.
Conversations go dry or get awkward, but you need to push yourself if you want to get the most out of a language exchange.
Find someone you like that you get along with. (It helps to have similar interests.) Finding multiple people exposes you to more Japanese and more chances to talk!
Set up a structure of conversation so you have 20-30 minutes each of only talking in Japanese, then 20-30 of only English.
Plan ahead what you want to talk about and/or what you want to practice.
If you want to take it a step further help each other study by providing short flashcards or paragraphs to read.
Ultimately working with a speaking partner is a matter of making a friend. If your language exchange doesn’t work out that’s not the end of the world. But you can’t let it stand in the way of finding someone else.
In the end you’ll find some great people to practice with and who knows where things might go from there.
Have you ever had a great speaking partner? How did it go? What kind of things did you do to practice Japanese/English?