Language Exchange experience

Completely on a whim, I threw out an open invitation to all of my friends on Lang-8 to try a language exchange over Skype and one of them took me up on the offer. We had our first meeting yesterday and I figured someone might be interested in my experience.

My language partner is named Miho. She lives in Saitama ward, which is northwest of Tokyo, but it sounds like she didn’t live in the actual metro area. She said she was an assistant school teacher in their previous city until they had to move after her husband was transferred, so she currently isn’t working.

We had this meeting all in English, with next week’s to be all in Japanese. I think it’s easier to stick to one language each meeting because we can get in the mentality of speaking each language and it’s more likely to not try to fall back to your native one. We started in English because I figured her English would be better than my Japanese (spoiler alert: it is). We are letting the other person pick the topic and drive the conversation each week, so we only have to prepare every other time.

She initially only wanted to keep to 30 minutes, but she blew past that completely. We did keep it to an hour though and I think it’s best to keep to that because the conversation can be very tiring.

The actual conversation was very enjoyable. I wasn’t sure what her English level would be, but while she said she was working very hard, her pronunciation was very clear and understandable. Most of the non-native speakers I know are Indian or Chinese, so I don’t have many Japanese speakers to compare her to, but she was much clearer than a lot of the people I work with who’ve lived in the US for 20 years. I made sure to give her lots of encouragement and I think she started feeling comfortable talking to me. She asked some questions, like how to pronounce my username (4 consonants in a row is a bit evil) and we ended on a high note.

As you can tell by my level, my Japanese ability is still very low. I am expecting to struggle a lot next week, but that’s never going to change unless I start at some point, so why not now? It also has given me a new point of motivation for studying because I will otherwise be unable to communicate.

I would highly recommend it to everyone. There is just something about having conversations with an actual native speaker that you can’t get with a conversation partner. I will probably only stick to talking to 1 person at a time, but I could see meeting with multiple people in a week once I get to a more functional level.


I’ve always wanted to try it but I’m embarassed at speaking Japanese as my Japanese is still less than stellar.


I really like this idea. I’ve had trouble in the past setting up structured conversations when both of us are rather bad at each other’s languages. Also, the uncomfortable, “i dont know what to say” is a bit hard to get past.

I expect my next skype language partner experience will involve a bit of google translate. And hopefully, the person I get is good at teaching me the proper way to say things (seeing as many things I say are going to be really bad)

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That’s awesome! Glad you had a good experience with language exchange. It has honestly been great for me to practice speaking, and it lets you get through so many more concepts/ideas/corrections than typing out messages ever could.

Re: embarrassment, remember that 1) they are in the same boat as you with (with English) 2) most people are really supportive 3) if you happen to find a bad apple who’s not helpful, you never have to speak to them again and will probably never see them again in your life.

Highly recommend if speaking Japanese is a priority!


She admitted to me later that she was worried about if I was a nice person before our meeting.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about how Japanese people are often afraid of speaking English, but there’s always a lot of encouragement for them. I think it’s important for us to try as much as we can too because there’s just as much encouragement for us.

Heck, I’ve had a lot of my Chinese coworkers get giddy just because I can point out a handful of kanji.


Thanks for making the effort to communicate so many aspects of that experience.

It sounds well worth doing. I actually bought a webcam yesterday so that I could use Skype and find a tutor on iTalki. But finding a normal conversation partner too is a great idea. I like the idea of keeping to one language per session too - I tried language exchange with a local woman once, and though we started out with 50-50 intentions, it somehow morphed into almost all English. It’s very difficult to manage well, but this way would work perfectly.


The advantage of paying a tutor is they will have actual experience teaching the language and spend more time and effort targeting your abilities. I wouldn’t consider this a replacement for having an actual tutor, because it’s as much entertainment as learning.

You can do a 50-50 split if you timebox your sessions well, but that may mean cutting off your conversations midway through and you have to do preparations for it more often. I think doing 1 language per session just makes everything easier.


I do 50-50 as well and have made some great friends. IMO, this is the true test of my Japanese skill that is the most meaningful, not my WaniKani level or even your JLPT results. I base my progress entirely on well I’m able to communicate (writing as well). Every conversation will eventually land in some unfamiliar vocab or grammar zone and tells me what I need to work on. I try to find a way to use at least one new grammar item…if I fail its ok but if successful the memory is very strong. Of course everyone’s goals/motives may differ…


I’ve been realizing how much I need to add talking to my study regiment. I’ll probably get a tutor first as I feel my level is bad enough I would want to pay someone to deal with me! :slight_smile:

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I like the accountability of 50/50 in each session (because I’m a cynical person and what if there is no next time!)

To keep on schedule I use a literal phone timer and say now it’s “English Time!” or “日本語タイム!” and do 30 mins each. Also don’t be afraid to hold people accountable if they start drifting into the other language in the wrong time. While it’s nice to be friendly etc. you’re meeting so that both of you can benefit from each other’s native language skill.


Just to make one small quibble, Saitama is a prefecture (and a city in its own right), not a ward.

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I had a lot of success with language exchange over Skype before I moved to Japan. I think over the years I talked with about 10 different people (and 2 or 3 of those lasted more than a year). There was a good range from people who spoke almost no English to people who were near native. I don’t have time, or need, for that anymore, but I think fondly of those times.

Was gonna post the same thing when I read the thread. ha.

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There are a lot of pervs out there and its even a problem with meet and greet groups who treat the ladies like a dating site. Others are not serious about learning so it can a waste too. I can understand her concerns.

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In my defense, she was the one who said Saitama ward.


I’m a strong proponent of having language exchange partners. Doing language exchange is beneficial to both parties as well. I too when I first started had little speaking skill, but push through it anyway. After two and half years with one individual and a year and a half with another, my Japanese has improved immensely. Not to mentioned I’ve become friends with both individuals. The challenge for me, however, was finding individuals motivated enough to study with me. The problem with undertaking language study (or any long-term goals) is that if one is partnered up with someone who isn’t committed, and they’ve become dependent upon their partner’s commitment to that activity together, if the uncommitted partner flakes out, the committed one’s motivation can suffer quite a bit. So when I find people who aren’t serious, I let them go real quick.


This topic reminded my that I should probably start looking for both, a Japanese language as well as an English language partner.
My English conversational skills are not what they could be, to put it lightly, as I’ve only really practiced talking at school and never with a native :man_shrugging:.

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In my case, her English ability is so much higher than my Japanese, that it will take me quite a while to close that gap. Since she had English classes in school, most of her practice is through reading and listening to native material. I’m still spending all of my time between WaniKani, Anki, and Genki.

It can be discouraging, but I always prefer spending time around people who are significantly better than me at things, because it gives you a way to improve and also a benchmark to know where you stand.


I certainly understand the feeling. One of my friends lived overseas in an English speaking country for several year and the other watches English media and comes up with the most challenging questions about words and phrases he’s picked up from what he’s watched. And here I was struggling to just put a comprehensible sentence together, haha.

The one thing I do appreciate about my friends is that they try really hard not to put words into my mouth. What I mean by this is I would say something (incorrectly) and then the other person changes the entire meaning of what I said as a correction. For example:

Me: 私は中野市で住みます。
Other person: No, you should say, “私は中野区に住んでいます。”
Me: But I don’t live in Tokyo…
Other person: :no_mouth:. You don’t…:cold_sweat:

I had something similar to that happen on HelloTalk. But in any case, it’s always nice to have someone a bit further ahead in their mastery to help you through your own learning journey, isn’t it?


I think it’s important to separate conversation from corrections when doing language exchange. To maintain the flow, the native speaker should take notes and then give a digestable amount of corrections after the conversation. Stopping to rewrite every sentence is deflating and choppy. It also doesn’t give the person a chance to absorb the correction, if they want to keep discussing the thing they were discussing.


That’s a good idea. I didn’t want to get too involved on our first meeting, since it was a lot of get-to-know-you stuff and I honestly didn’t feel there was all that much to correct, but we also didn’t get into anything in-depth so I could see that changing in the future.

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