Can you have a worthwhile French language conversation while panicking over conjugations?
Can you express yourself well enough to make French friends when you only know 6 basic verbs?
We’ve all been there.
All French language learners, from beginners to advanced students, can gain something from conversing in French.
I was prepared to sacrifice my left arm in order to have a smooth French language dialogue, without having to constantly stop and mentally prepare my next sentences. Don’t you wish you could just speak French like a local and naturally pick up the latest slang?
Finding a French language partner can really help your conversational French go from stilted sentences to full-blown debates in record time. Thanks to modern technology, it has never been easier to find a fellow language learner. Even so, many language learners have a hard time getting started. They hem and haw, afraid to embarrass themselves or make themselves vulnerable to strangers on the internet.
Beginners have the hardest time dealing with this frustration. A French conversation sounds lovely, but you’re just trying to absorb some common expressions and figure out which French language learning methods work the best. Intermediate to advanced learners may be more psyched to start chatting after months or years of reading French novels, studying the particulars of French grammar and preparing themselves for life in France. However, the idea of really putting to those skills to the test in front of an attentive native speaker can be quite intimidating.
Here I share my top tips for finding a French language partner, getting the most out of the experience and avoiding the potential pitfalls of conversation exchange.
First things first…
Where Can I Find a French Language Partner?
Online bien sûr! The internet is an incredible resource for language learners, and finding the perfect language partner is no exception.
Online Language Exchange Options
My Language Exchange
A user-friendly website complete with games, chat rooms, forums and lesson plans – a great conversation starter if you’re struggling for things to say!
This website’s simple interface allows city-specific searches to find a local conversation partner.
A more modern interface with a much broader scope. City-specific searches are not available but you do have a “keyword” function which can help you find local Exchangers!
Create a profile with your language levels and goals, conduct a simple search et voilà! Hundreds of potential French language partners are just a few keystrokes and mouse clicks away. One word of advice on your language exchange profile: be specific. How often do you want to meet? What are you hoping to achieve? What level of language partner are you looking for? All of this will help users gauge whether or not they are a suitable candidate for you.
Real Life Language Exchange Options
Friends of Friends
Friends may be an obvious resource for finding a language partner, but in reality you are much more likely to slip back into English or be too shy to try out your brand new vocab with a friend. Instead, ask your nearest and dearest to suggest French friends who may be in need of a language partner. This has the double benefit of ensuring that tip #10 (introduced later) is less pertinent.
Once you have found your language exchange partner, get straight to chatting! Does your written French need some work? Start an email exchange, or write old-school letters and revive the art of postal exchange. Want to master your conversational skills? Make the most of the 21st century and organize Skype, Facetime or Viber Chats online. Keen to meet native French speakers in your area? Take the plunge and meet your language partner face to face. Whatever your preference, bear in mind the following top tips for getting the most from your exchange.
10 Essential Tips for Stress-Free French Language Exchange
1. Set ground rules.
Set a stop-watch on your phone and agree an interval for each language, e.g. twenty minutes in French, followed by twenty in English. Stick to it ruthlessly to avoid favoring one language over another and to ensure you’re both using your time to improve.
2. Don’t panic.
Language exchange can be very daunting at first, especially when your French skills are still at a basic level. Don’t give up. While en route to your meeting place, or before your Skype exchange, think of some simple questions you’d like to ask. Work on these questions and various answers with your partner.
3. Keep a notebook.
This tip comes with a strict proviso: don’t spend your time writing down every new word and phrase. You are there to converse, not take meeting minutes. For learning specific vocabulary, a notebook can be helpful as a reminder.
4. Identify your French skill level.
If you are a total beginner and opt for an almost bilingual partner, you are likely to become embarrassed easily and apologetically revert back to English. Find a partner whose English is at a similar level to your French. Prepare yourself for elaborate sign-language. You will learn much faster without having your native language as a crutch.
5. Learn about France’s regional variations.
While French has relatively few strong accents, it is worth remembering that regional differences in speech do still exist, and Canadian French in particular is very different to that spoken in Paris. This in itself can be a great topic for discussion – ask your language partner to explain the differences you might come across in slang, accent or vocabulary. Do they struggle with accents in English? Reciprocate by teaching them all about the regional variations of the English language.
6. Brainstorm topics in advance.
If you’re nervous about maintaining the conversation, jot down some topics that will help kick-start a debate. The latest French news articles are a great (and fairly natural) resource. Choose news stories that interest you and simply start with “Did you hear about…..” Additionally, you can refer to FluentU for ideas.
By watching these authentic French videos, you can learn more about pop culture, current events, and other topics that are relevant to native speakers. This ensures that you never run out of things to talk about with your language partner.
7. Do your homework.
Between conversation exchanges, note key vocabulary, phrases or exchanges that you don’t quite understand to make up some great starting points for your next conversation session. Take advantage of your language exchange time to ask questions about challenging language obstacles – but ask your questions and listen to the answers in French, not English!
8. Become friends while maintaining your goals.
Finding a great conversation partner usually means you are compatible friends, but a growing friendship can let language practice fall by the wayside in favor of the latest gossip and personal life updates. Converse about whatever topic you want, but be sure that you stick to your practice languages. For half of the meeting speak in English, and for the other half speak in French.
9. Beware of the blind date in disguise.
Some free websites are fantastic resources for finding a conversation partner, but you may find that on posting a short profile about your goals you are inundated with keen language partners of the opposite sex. Be sensible. Search for a partner and initiate contact yourself, or exchange a few messages beforehand. Most language exchange websites have a built-in messaging tool, so there’s no need to give out any personal contact information.
And, of course, with whoever you choose to meet….
10. Be safe.
Conversation exchanges are excellent language learning opportunities, but don’t be foolish about meeting strangers. What would your mother have to say about that? Let a friend, roommate or family member know who you are meeting for language exchange, where you are meeting them and at what time. Meet in a café or other bustling public place. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, don’t think twice about making your excuses and taking your leave. If you’re not sure about real-life exchanges, Skype and other video chat services are a great tool for international conversations.
Feeling inspired? That’s what I like to hear! Everyone loves a little free learning, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can improve once you find your ideal language exchange partner, so what are you waiting for?
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.