Many think that the key to upholding a successful language exchange partnership is finding the ideal partner. Few realize that their language exchange might be failing because they themselves don't know how to be a good language exchange partner. By using the following tips and becoming a better language exchange partner, you will forge better partnerships and increase your chances of finding a long-lasting language exchange partner.
1. Come prepared
Don't just show up to your language exchange and expect to fill the hour or so with spontaneous small talk. Even the best of friends can have trouble gabbing for long, and that's when they are speaking their native language. To avoid awkward silences and wasted time, come ready with a list of topics, questions, a text, etc. that you want to talk about during your half of the conversation (In a time split). Take responsibility for your half of the conversation, and encourage your language exchange partner to do the same.
2. Be consistent and punctual
Whether it is an online or in-person language exchange, be on time. If you are late, take the time out of your half and give your language exchange partner their full share. Block out your language exchange session on your calendar and even the half-hour before it to do some reviewing. Meeting once a week - every week is usually the golden formula. More than that and you will have a hard time keeping it up if your schedule gets busy, less than that and you will end up fizzling out.
3. Focus on what they want to say - not what they are saying
Your language exchange partner is a learner. They will make grammar mistakes, have a limited vocabulary and their accent may be way off. If you focus too hard on the actual sounds they are making you can have a hard time understanding anything and being a helpful language exchange partner. Be highly contextual. Try and focus on the meaning your partner is likely trying to convey during that stage in the conversation or based on the current topic. For example, if your language exchange partner is introducing themselves, they will be trying to say things like: "My name is...", "I'm from...", "My job is..." etc. Even if you don't understand a word that is coming out of their mouth these are safe things to guide them on by throwing in a related word or sentence.
4. Don't be afraid to interrupt
Listening and letting your language exchange partner talk and experiment without interrupting is important, but there are some key moments where they want your input.
A. The pause - When your language exchange partner is stuck on a word, and going "umm umm", waving their hand, and looking at you wide-eyed - give them the word they are looking for. It is not rude to complete a person's sentence in a language exchange, and this helps your language exchange partner stay on track and continue what they are saying as naturally as possible without pausing to look up a word.
B. The "how to say?" - This is a question that will come up a lot in a language exchange and many people often miss it. Open your ears to anything that might indicate that your language exchange partner is asking how to say a certain word in their target language even if it is not the standard way of asking that question in said language.
C. The mistake - Your language exchange partner wants to be corrected, that is why they are meeting you. It is not rude and there is no reason to be shy when correcting a language exchange partner. Do it promptly so that your language exchange partner understands the context of the correction and the mistake is clear in their mind.
5. Correct naturally
You should not be afraid to correct, but when you do - there is a right way to do it. Corrections should be natural and don't have to interrupt the flow of the conversation. For example, if your language exchange partner makes a pronunciation mistake, just nod and repeat the word with the correct pronunciation. They should understand they are being corrected and repeat the word correctly and continue in conversation. There is no need to say "stop! you are saying it wrong" etc. For grammar, you can wait till the pause in the conversation to repeat the sentence in the correct structure. The ideal correction will take the place an affirmation of understanding would take in a regular conversation.
An example conversation:
Learner: "Yesterday I go to the store to buy fruits"
Amazing partner: "Ah, you went to the store yesterday?" Waving hand backward.
Self-conscious learner: "Yes yes I went to the store"
"Amazing partner"'s interjection comes in the same way it would come naturally in a conversation between natives when confirming the conveyed information and relaying attentive listening. If your language exchange partner doesn't correct themselves, wait to see if the same mistake is made again. If it is, they may need the underlying concept explained to them explicitly, such as:
Learner: "Yes yesterday I go to the store and also go to visit my friend"
Amazing partner: "Ah, I understand what you are trying to say. In English we say went when talking about the past. I went to the store and also went to visit my friend"