In my post about Language Learning Tips, one of my main points is that you actually have to engage in a certain activity if you want to get better at it. For example, if you want to learn how to talk in Japanese, you need to find Japanese speakers and talk with them as much as possible. However, as with all things in life, that’s easier said than done. So, I’m here to talk about how you (yes, YOU!) can go about finding language conversation partners.
I’ve become very familiar with this topic because I recently moved back to the US and am finding that you really have to go out of your way to find people to practice with even in an international city like Seattle. However, within the past few months, I have found not only Japanese people to chat with but also Chinese people for my burgeoning (ie poor) Mandarin.
Finding real life partners
Real life language partners are better than any form of online partners because of the real-time interaction and improved physical inputs (ie gestures and facial expressions). That all sounds like techno mumbo-jumbo but it just means the best 3D environment can be found by turning off your computer and (gasp!) actually going outside.
Personally, I’ve had great luck with www.meetup.com, which is a site for creating meetups on any topic. I met a bunch of great people by going to meetups like the Seattle Japanese Language and Culture Meetup or the Seattle Chinese Language Meetup.
Meeting in a group is always a great opportunity to practice speaking and listening to the language of your choice but you can’t beat 1 on 1 language exchange. It is the best way to really ask questions and practice at your current language level. In Japan, because English is such a popular language, it’s a cinch to find people willing to teach you Japanese in exchange for English lessons. You can check out your local 市役所 for activities or bulletin boards at your school. Or if you can navigate through the Japanese interface, you can also check out language-related communities at mixi.jp, the biggest Japanese social network site. (You can ask me for an invite if you’re interested.)
If you’re not living in Japan, there are still some ways to find offline language partners depending on where you live. You can post or look for an ad on Craigslist . You might also want to check with your local community, nearby schools, etc. for events and opportunities to meet with people who speak Japanese.
When I was learning Japanese, it was easy for me to find Japanese friends on the college campus. However, now that I’m already out of school, I have to do a bit more work to find people to practice my Chinese. I found my first language partner (English/Chinese through Japanese) in Japan through international activities held by 川口 city. （国際化 is kind of a fad at the moment for municipal governments.） In the states, I found a language partner through Craigslist (English/Chinese through English) and another through a Chinese meetup (Chinese/Japanese through English). Because everybody speaks English in the States, you have to be a bit more aggressive and enthusiastic to get somebody to want to learn English from you. Unlike the case in Japan, people won’t be like, “Please teach me English!” because they see English everywhere. Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, you need to be like, “Please teach me Japanese! I can teach you English!”
Finding online partners
While real life partners are great and at some point indispensable, you might want to find online conversation partner if some of the conditions below apply to you.
- There are very few to no Japanese speakers in your area.
- You want to talk from the comfort of your home without spending the time and/or money on transportation.
- Your schedule or those of other people makes finding the time to meet with people in real life difficult.
- Your time with real-life language partners are just not enough and you want more practice! More! More!
Mixxer is a great site for finding a conversation partner on Skype. Now Mixxer has its downsides such as almost no search capabilities and not being able to sort search results but it gets the job done, which is simply to get in contact with somebody to do language exchange. And it’s free so you really can’t complain.
All you have to do is register and fill out your profile, which is very simple (because it doesn’t try to be an international dating site), look for people that match your language profile, and contact them via the site, Skype, or email. That’s it. It’s simplicity is it’s best feature and it really does its one job well: finding somebody who wants to learn your language and speaks the language you want to learn.
I tried out the site and there are surprisingly a large number of people registered. I’ve had all sorts of Chinese speakers contact me either through the Mixxer or Skype. As a native English speaker, I’m sure you won’t have much trouble finding a Japanese speaker to talk to. The only drawback is that the time lag makes it difficult to arrange a time and it’s far too easy to slack off. There’s nothing like having to actually go out to meet somebody to really motivate you to keep studying. Another thing to be careful about is if neither of you speaks a language in common to some degree, there can be a bit of communication breakdown. If you are a complete beginner at Japanese, you really need to find somebody that speaks at least some English.
I hope you got some good ideas on how to go about finding your own language partner because you’ll never learn how to speak Japanese until you actually go out and practice speaking it for real. I’ll also talk about how to make the best of your time with your language partner once you’ve found one so stay tuned!