7 Penpal Websites for Starting Foreign Language Exchanges Online and via Snail Mail
You know, they say the world is getting smaller and smaller and thanks to this, it’s an excellent time to be a language learner.
With the Internet, you quite literally have the world at your fingertips!
Because of this, the foreign language penpal community is booming.
Let’s find out what the benefits of having a foreign language penpal are and how to get one of your own.
- Why Should You Find a Foreign Language Penpal?
- 7 of the Best Websites to Find a Foreign Language Penpal
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Why Should You Find a Foreign Language Penpal?
If you’re learning a new language, or if you just want to perfect the one—or many—that you’ve been practicing for a while, you should be jumping all over this.
Because, maybe, other than the small issue of time zones, which can easily be overcome, there’s absolutely no downside to having a foreign penpal.
Having regular communication with a native speaker of your target language will do wonders for your progress. Even if you end up corresponding with another learner who’s more advanced or fluent, there’s a lot to be gained from this interaction.
You’ll have someone to correct your mistakes. Ask your penpal to casually make note of any significant errors, or ask them to really go crazy and do a deep edit, leaving little markings and notes all over your writing.
You’ll be able to pick up and retain all of those little nuanced, colloquial phrases that throw us for a loop when we’re learning on our own, and especially when we’re learning with a formal method of instruction like a classroom or textbook. Those often leave out more informal language, which is necessary for communicating with natives.
It’s as close to full-on immersion as you’ll get without having to pick up and move to a foreign country. In some ways, it can even be better than immersion.
Don’t get me wrong. Obviously, living among the speakers of your target language is going to shoot you light-years forward in your progress, but it’s not necessarily going to be a personalized experience all the time. Strangers could certainly become good friends or language exchange partners of yours someday, but the people you bump into on the street don’t always have the time or desire to really listen to you and teach you—not like a penpal would.
So, rather than dealing with people in the streets who just want you to get to the point, you can have a penpal who’s there to support you as you learn and help you back up when you stumble and fall through the language learning process.
And if you’re at all worried about the thought of speaking with someone, don’t be! You can ease into communications and start short and simple chats, before lengthening your conversations. Be frank about your current skill level and be receptive to feedback.
The other fringe benefit to having a penpal is right there in the name. The “pal.” Some would argue that it’s the best benefit of them all. In the process of learning, you’ll form a bond with someone who’s a million miles away, yet, it may feel like they’re right next door. There’s no need to explain the benefits of friendship, since we all know what it’s like… hopefully. However, international friendship is a bit of an upgrade for learners.
Just talking about your dear friend from, let’s say, Copenhagen, will make you sound cooler in conversation. Plus, the two of you will share so many stories and so much cultural information, that you’ll be able to talk about Copenhagen (or, you know, wherever) like a native. That will instantly make you sound smarter, more cultured and just all-around more interesting.
Then there’s travel. You’ve now got a friend in Copenhagen. You’ve always wanted to go to Copenhagen. Guess what? Now you can go, and you may not have to pay for a hotel. That’s not always the case, but then you’ve still got yourself a free tour guide, and you’ll get to go to all the cool local places that are free of Hawaiian shirts and selfie sticks.
With a foreign penpal, you’re basically opening up a whole new world for yourself and you’re doing the same for another person. It can be one of the best relationships you’ve ever had. You’ll be expanding your mind, and yeah, making the world a little smaller one conversation at a time.
Can’t wait to get started? Let’s steer you in the right direction.
7 of the Best Websites to Find a Foreign Language Penpal
InterPals is arguably the most popular website where language learners go to meet potential penpals.
You’ll have a wide variety of options as you search for the person or people who you match well with. You’re definitely going to want to find someone you like so that you’ll be able to carry on a long-term relationship. Luckily, InterPals makes that easy for you.
The first way to narrow down your InterPals search is by letting people know how you’d like to correspond. When you register, you have the option of indicating whether you want to communicate through email or snail mail. This is definitely good to know up front, especially for those of you who want to keep it old-school.
You can also indicate the kind of relationship that you’re looking to build. You have the option of selecting whether you’re looking for friendship, a relationship or if you simply want to flirt. So, if you want to keep things PG, make sure you look for others who are in the same state of mind. As for all you saucier language learners, well, you might just get more bang for your buck here (no pun intended… ish).
Another cool feature of InterPals is the search filter. Once you’re all set up and seeking partners, you can narrow down the database of potential penpals to exactly the type of person you’d like to speak to, down to the age and gender of the person.
Also, to safeguard against time-wasting—we need to save up all the energy we can for language practice—you’re able to set your filters so that you’re only seeing the newest members, the most recently modified profiles and those with the most recent last logins. This is great, because you can direct your messages to those who are most active on the site and who are most likely to respond.
There’s also a live feed so that you can connect with people right away if you feel they’re a great match.
InterPals has many other cool features to explore. If you’re interested, go sign up and check them out!
2. Conversation Exchange
Conversation Exchange is one of the simplest, if not fanciest, of the language exchange platforms.
Here, all of your online communication occurs through what’s essentially an email messaging system. Of course, you’re welcome to communicate by any means with which you feel comfortable.
The website gives you the option to indicate whether you’re looking to communicate through snail mail, email or face-to-face. If you decide that you want to communicate exclusively through the Internet, you may select from a long list of chat software (i.e. Skype, WhatsApp, Hangouts) that you might use so that people can match themselves with you appropriately.
One of the better features here, however, is the profile deactivation. Don’t mistake this with account deletion, as the two are mutually exclusive. On a platform like Conversation Exchange, where language learning enthusiasts like you are brimming with excitement for a language buddy, you may find your inbox flooded with introductions and requests for friendship.
At first, it may be fun to sift through all of these new people’s messages, but after some time it can become overwhelming. You’ll spend more time sifting through emails, sending friendly rejection messages or simply deleting messages altogether when you could be spending your time actually writing, speaking and learning.
If you’ve already settled into a comfortable exchange with a foreign friend through this site and you’re not interested in making more, go ahead and deactivate your profile. Doing this will allow you to continue your penpal relationship on the website, assuming you two didn’t opt for a snail mail exchange or another form of communication, without you being bombarded by new emails every day. When you’re ready to meet new people again, simply reactivate your page and you’re good to go.
3. My Language Exchange
With Conversation Exchange being one of the simpler platforms, My Language Exchange is on the other end of the spectrum.
This website offers a very comprehensive service with plenty of cool features that will leave you no excuse not to put forth your absolute best effort when finding and conversing with a penpal.
First, the website offers a translation tool to help you when you get stuck, as well as a feature that allows you to insert foreign accents. This is ideal for people learning Latin-based languages where there are accents and other symbols present in nearly every sentence. A lot of sites don’t always offer this, and since the meaning of a word can sometimes change with the use of an accent, symbol or some other character, it takes away the stress of having confusing or awkward exchanges—and of trying to figure out a newly-installed foreign keyboard layout on your computer.
Another great feature is that they flag inactive or invalid email users. The last thing we want to do is waste our time with people who aren’t as serious as we are about learning a new language. So, thank you, My Language Exchange, for making life easier for us all.
Once you snag a friend who’s ready and willing to jump into the action with you, the website offers tips on how to effectively communicate with each other. These are focused on how to write back and forth in both languages, how to give feedback and how to figure out translations, so that you can make the most of your time together.
There are a whole host of other features such as games and lesson plans to help you really strengthen your communication with your penpal. It’s safe to say that My Language Exchange takes the penpal relationship as seriously as we do. We couldn’t ask for more.
4. PenPal World
If there’s anything that PenPal World values, it’s definitely user control.
Like the other platforms on this list, it allows you to use search filters to help you find your best match. While searching, you can be sure you won’t see anything unsavory. That’s because PenPal World has a zero tolerance policy for non-PG content and behavior. When you sign up, your profile picture must be approved before it goes live so that you and other users don’t suffer the misfortune of coming across something completely inappropriate.
The platform is big on personal boundaries. It gives you the option to cut yourself off from anyone you don’t want contact with. You have the option to report inappropriate messages, minors can block all adults (as they should) and you can block users that you don’t vibe with, and you can even block entire countries. Not sure why you’d need to do that—perhaps you’d like to learn Quebec French and don’t want French nationals to contact you?—but, regardless, the option is there in case you need it.
PenPal World has both a free option and a paid option. With the free membership, you’re permitted to contact up to three users within a 24-hour period. With the paid membership, you’re permitted to contact up to 50 users every single day. Everyone has their own preferences, but for most people connecting with 50 users a day is a bit much, especially if they all respond. So, don’t feel bad if you’re tight on cash. Three for free should be just fine.
Another nice feature is the ability to update your profile in real time and also pause it if you want to scale down on new contacts.
5. Global Penfriends
Global Penfriends focuses on helping people find the most perfect match.
When you sign up, you’re required to fill out a very detailed profile so that you can match up preferences, interests and backgrounds in the best possible way. If you’re looking for someone who’s just like you or completely opposite from you, you’ll have a better chance of knowing who that person is on this platform.
Similarly to the other sites, you may chat through the website’s messaging system. However, if you’re interested in snail mail, you may purchase snail mail credits for access to a user’s postal address.
They even have a service that will create your letters and postcards electronically, print, stamp and send them for you. If you don’t have credits, you may find other people interested in communicating through snail mail by applying filters and searching for users who indicate this preference in the “Correspond As” section of their profiles.
Let’s say you come across a profile that you don’t think is quite your cup of tea, but you know someone else who might be totally interested in speaking to this person. There’s the “Tell A Friend” feature that allows you to share profiles with friends. Also, if you don’t have contact credits or haven’t subscribed to the site’s Premium Membership, you can always “Send A Smile” to someone to let them know that you’re interested in connecting.
Speaky is not advertised as a penpal website, but it functions as one. As soon as you set up your account here, you’ll be matched with several users who are currently signed on to Live Chat, and there you’ll be able to message as many people as you’d like.
Once you find your perfect match, you’re free to carry on your conversations the old fashioned way, through snail mail or email, but there are some good reasons to stick to communicating on Speaky.
First of all, you have a notepad which allows you to document all of the words and phrases you learn when speaking with your new contacts.
Even better than that is the correction feature. It allows you to correct your mistakes and your new buddy’s mistakes right in the text box. When you correct your friend’s mistake, or when you get corrected, it keeps the old version of the sentence and the new version so you can see exactly where you went wrong. It’s an incredibly useful learning tool that you should take advantage of.
Ayni is small community, but it places a big focus on tending to its community.
When you sign up, you get a personal email from a staff member welcoming you to the website, and an invitation to a 30-minute video chat where you can tell them what you hope to get out of using the website.
In this email, you’ll also get a link to a Facebook group of speakers of your native language so that you can share your experiences. Here, they really want you to feel that you’re among friends.
When you complete your profile, you select the little “I want a penpal” option and send the request. You’re not permitted to make this request more than once each day. That may seem like a bit of a drag, but it’s oh so good.
Having a penpal is about building a relationship, and this website gives you the extra support needed to focus on that from the very start. It’s good to try and get to know one person at a time instead of frantically going from person to person trying to get someone to talk to you.
Before you start your chat, the website also encourages you to correct any mistakes that the person may have made in their profile introduction. It’s a great way to support each other right from the beginning.
Some of their practical features are the translator box which, again, is very useful for when you get stuck. Also, for those of us who are concerned about time commitments, there’s a feature that allows you to indicate how much time you’re willing to put in with a penpal. It’s great to be able to connect with someone who’s willing to put in as much or as little time as you without having to feel stressed about not responding to messages or having to wait days for a response.
Ayni also has a great blog (which is mainly related to French speaking) with lots of great information that will help move you further along in the language learning and penpal process.
All right, now get out there and have fun!
Not sure what to talk about? Try watching the same things that your penpal is watching so you have something to discuss. Learning language in context provided by authentic media is extremely beneficial, and you’ll only learn faster if you actually talk to someone about the subjects and topics you’re currently studying.
Watch some authentic clips on a program like FluentU, which teaches 10 languages using videos like movie clips, music videos, news segments and more. These include modern hits as well as classics, so you can get a broad sense of the culture and language.
You can also use FluentU to collect vocabulary related to what you watch. The program has a built-in contextual dictionary, so you can check the meaning of any word from the subtitles or add it to your flashcards. Review vocab with personalized quizzes and use the multimedia flashcards to see more examples of the words in use naturally.
Always be careful when it comes to giving your personal information, even though the good people outnumber the bad ones. These websites will guide you through the process as safely as possible, but you’ll also need to use your common sense and knowledge of Internet safety.
After all this, remember, you might just meet a new lifelong friend, so it’s worth it.
There are few greater rewards!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)