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.