Do you want to find a friendly speaker of an Eskimo-Aleut language?
How about someone living right smack between France and Spain?
You can light up your language learning by chatting with a native speaker from any time zone, on your phone or laptop—the very second you finish reading this post.
This post is going to teach you the best practices every language learner should remember when interacting with native speakers online.
Then, we’re going to follow those up with a section on five amazing places where you can find those wonderful people.
So, you ready?
Best Practices When Talking Online with Native Speakers
Of course, “talking online” can mean many things. But whether you’re doing instant messaging, voice or video (or even ESP), these best practices are equally applicable and are worth remembering each time you’re interacting with others.
Did you know that waiting for you online are native speakers of practically every language on the face of the earth?! Thousands and tens of thousands of them at your disposal. But this will all be for naught if you don’t sign up for an exchange site, are too lazy to search for and download an app or can’t even be bothered to type “Hi!”
Native speakers who can help you with any language under the sun are waiting for you. But the operative word here is “waiting.” No, they won’t knock on your door. You have to make the first move.
Reach out to them. Send the first message. Don’t play the waiting game, as if there’s something so uncool about making the first move. Message a complete stranger and say, “Hey Ricardo, I see you wanna learn English? Maybe I can help. Can you also maybe help me with my Spanish? When would be a good time to Skype for you?”
Be polite, but proactive.
Be a Friend
Even if you’re separated by miles, people still sense whether you’re being genuine. They can see it in your face, they can hear it in your voice and they can read between the lines.
So in a video language exchange, for example, make sure that you treat your buddy with respect—like, don’t take and take and make them feel like their only purpose in life is to teach you their language. Take turns. Help them as much as you can, and be genuinely interested in them as a person.
Ask them about their day. Talk about the movie you saw last night. Small talk is not only nice, it helps build trust. Don’t just dive into, “So, Ricardo, how do you conjugate this verb? How about this one?”
One way to keep the conversation both language-based and relatable is to use FluentU to prepare for your language exchanges. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
When you take an interest in the popular culture, news, art and entertainment that appears alongside your target language, you’re showing your partner that you care enough to learn about parts of the world they live in. This makes it easy for you both to enjoy talking to each other and to learn language naturally along the way.
Be a real friend, and you might just have somebody who’ll help you for years. And, who knows, Ricardo might even pick you up at the airport when you land in Barcelona in the dead of night.
Have a Cheat Sheet
Before you get online and talk to a native speaker via chat, voice or video, make sure you’ve done your homework. That means logging in a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work before any online interaction. Research and read up on your target language before your sessions.
And not only that, plan what you’re going to say. Write down some questions or points that need clarification. List topics you want to discuss. Prepare a cheat sheet and populate it with material that’s more than you think you’ll need. With that, you’re unlikely to run out of things to say and have those dreaded awkward silences. You won’t have to fake an internet service disruption.
And while we’re on the topic of writing things down, when talking online, keep another sheet on which to write down your notes. What did you learn from the interaction? Write it down. (This may even seem like a major revelation when you read it a few hours later.)
Make as Many Mistakes as Possible
If you’re going to be a great language learner, you need to be ready to feel vulnerable. You’re going to be eating language mistakes for breakfast and need to be totally okay with them. Because guess what, you’re going to be making a lot of them, and somebody will be there to witness it. (Which scares a lot of people, I think.)
But instead of dreading your errors, why don’t you purposely try to #MakeAsManyMistakesAsPossible? Seriously. Don’t try to avoid them. Make so many that you become numb to that feeling of dread. Share a laugh with your native speaker language partner instead.
Tell them, “I’m totally new to German, so expect a lot of errors coming your way. I mean, they’re going to be everywhere. So feel free to correct me, that’s what I’m here for.”
You’ll find that, as soon as you “let go,” your interactions will become smoother. Awkward moments will be lessened. You’ll become more genuine because you’re not trying to be someone you’re not. All that comes through on the other end of the line.
Take Care of the Little Things
It’s really the confluence of details that make your online interactions pleasurable for you and your friend.
Things like being on time. Whether it’s IM, voice or video, you better be sure that you show up at that moment you’re supposed to show up.
When you do video chat, do your friend a favor and clear up the space behind you. Hide those shirts and jackets under your bed. They can be distracting. When you do video with a handheld, don’t move your hand so much so that the other person experiences vertigo.
If you’re doing an audio chat, make sure you’re somewhere quiet, where nobody can suddenly interrupt your conversation with, “Hey, Johnny! Those dishes are not going to wash themselves!”
And please, for your partner’s sake, consciously try to enunciate clearly. And slowly.
Also, try your best to ensure that your internet connection is, at the very least, decent. It’s quite unnerving to build a relationship, much less communicate, with someone whose video lags all the time.
Make it easy on the other person, so they can go out of their way to help you.
Chat It Up! 5 Spots to Learn a Language by Talking Online
HiNative is simply a community of language learners and native speakers trying to help each other out.
The HiNative app makes it very easy for you to tap into the wisdom of native speakers. Have a language question? Simply type it in and your question will show up in a feed where native speakers can address it. So for example, if you want a translation for “Répondez s’il vous plaît,” just type, “What does ‘Répondez s’il vous plaît’ mean?” and you can get a reply, (sometimes) in a matter of minutes!
Don’t know exactly how to phrase your question? HiNative has question templates where you can just plug in the word or phrase you’re interested in.
Want to check your pronunciation? HiNative has audio recording capabilities. Tap and hold, talk… and then release when you’re done. Native speakers can give you feedback on your pronunciation and even send you an audio recording themselves so you can hear how they do it.
You can even send a photo of something and ask what it is in French, German, etc. HiNative makes it super easy to ask your question so that you, the language learner, can say goodbye to ever being stuck or stumped with a language conundrum.
Conversation Exchange is a pretty straightforward language exchange website.
By the way, if you haven’t figured it out yet, language exchange is just when two people help learn each other’s languages. Let’s say an Italian fellow wants to learn English. You on the other hand, an English speaker, want to learn Italian. You guys can be language exchange partners.
Conversation Exchange helps you find people who speak your target language and are also interested in learning your native language, so you can trade your language for theirs.
The site allows you to choose the kind of interaction you want. You can do instant messaging, audio or video calls.
The choice of IM, audio or video is a really important one. Not just because you may not be in the mood to show your face each time, but because these things do hone different language skills. Seeing a word is different from hearing it. Instant messaging helps you with spelling and composing in the target language. Audio sharpens your ears to its sounds. Video gives you the experience of actually interacting with a live native speaker.
So you should really be using all these different modes of “talking online.” With Conversation Exchange, you have the best of all worlds. You can even choose your platform of preference (e.g., Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.).
WeSpeke gives you the option to communicate via text, voice or video. Think of it like Skype, but boosted with all the language learning tools you’ll ever need.
WeSpeke understands that you’re still learning the language, so they help smooth out all those speedbumps in the interaction. Want to say something (like “play”) in French but don’t exactly know what the word for it is? Quickly consult the built-in translator and see that it’s “jouer.”
WeSpeke also provides you with “Slow Down,” “Say Again” and “Rephrase” buttons so you can signal to your partner what they need to do if you miss what was just said. If you want them to repeat themselves, for example, press “Say Again.” If that doesn’t work, there’s also the “Write It” option as back up. (You can then use the translator to check what they wrote.)
Because it asks you several questions when you first set up your account, WeSpeke is very good in matching you with people that have the same hobbies, interests and language skill levels. With WeSpeke, you’re assured of a fun and productive time with your language learning buddy.
It’s available in both browser and mobile versions.
If you want to take your learning to the next level, a language tutor or teacher might just be the thing you need. There’s nothing like 1-on-1 instruction, and having someone whose sole focus and interest is on your learning the language will do wonders for your skills.
And, with today’s technology, an online teacher is not really an expensive proposition.
CoLanguage boasts of language instructors from the top universities in Europe. They’ve been pre-screened by the site, and CoLanguage is so confident of their teachers that they guarantee you a full refund for the trial class if you don’t like yours.
The whole interactive dynamic changes when you’re talking to a tutor/teacher as opposed to a language exchange partner. Aside from their teaching experience, the other person is solely focused on you. There’s no taking turns as they’re not out there to learn a language. The whole interaction can be tailored to your “sticking points” and paced accordingly. With a tutor or teacher, you also have someone who can spot your mistakes quicker and be happy to set you right.
The lessons happen over Skype, so you do have the advantage of text, voice and video options.
Like most language exchange apps, Speaky lets you choose whether you want to “talk” via text, audio or video. It’s also available both in browser and mobile. But what probably sets Speaky apart from other language exchange apps is its dedication to getting you the right people to talk to as soon as possible.
Speaky helps you find your language learning soulmate(s). Its powerful filters put the people who meet your expectations front and center. You can filter via language skill level. You can even distinguish between native and non-native speakers of your target language.
Speaky finds you people whose profile and interests match with yours, which is really half the battle when you want to build a relationship online. It doesn’t matter whether it’s text chat, voice call or video call, having someone who loves the same things or is interested in the same topics really helps lubricate the whole interaction.
Speaky displays folks who are currently online so that you can open up the lines of communication with people who are ready and in the mood for language learning.
You can also check a friends list composed of people you’ve “talked to” before. With these folks, you don’t need to redo the whole “introduction” thing and can simply pick up where you left off talking about European football leagues.
There are people from more than 180 countries on the app, talking in more than 110 languages—and Speaky helps you zero in on those native speakers who can make the whole experience worthwhile.
Like I said, tens of thousands of native speakers are waiting for you on these different platforms.
But you have to go out of your way and make the first move. Go ahead!
That target language is yours for the taking.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.