French language partner: how to find the perfect partner – in only 5 steps
There are lots of ways to learn French—taking classes, using language learning software, watching movies. But once you get past the basics, what you really need to do is ‘talk’. And there’s nothing like talking to a native French speaker. So, why not find yourself a French language partner?
Why would a French person want to talk to you, someone still struggling with their language?
The average Français would not be thrilled. But there are some who would be delighted.
Those who want to learn English. Not only do they have exactly the same problem as you, (in reverse!), but just like you, they also need someone who will be patient with them and correct their mistakes.
I’ve used a number of language partners on my way to learning French. I’ve learned how to find them, what makes a good partner, and how best to work with one. Let me share what I’ve discovered so far…
1. Where to find your French language partner
Three great resources for finding partners are: Conversation Exchange, My Language Exchange and iTalki.
Think of them as dating sites for language learners. Users post a profile with their target language, their native language, and other information like their interests. You can review profiles and reach out to people who might be good matches, inviting them to connect.
Another possibility is through local French associations, especially those that French expatriates join. ESL (English as a Second Language) programs are also a good source.
2. How to choose the right French language partner
Look for someone whose English is at roughly the same level as your French. If one of you is much better than the other, then the mismatch could make your exchanges awkward.
Try to find someone with whom you share a few common interests. You don’t want to run out of things to talk about! Your best bet is usually someone within your age group, which will make it more likely to find common interests.
Finally, make sure that you are both motivated to make this work and improve your language skills. If one of you goes in half-heartedly, your partnership is unlikely to last long.
3. Meeting up with your French language partner
Ideally, you want to meet face-to-face, and preferably in a quiet place without too much background noise or other distractions. You could also try using Skype or FaceTime so that you can still see each other’s expressions and gestures.
Meeting regularly is essential. I recommend somewhere between twice a week and every fortnight. Each session should last about an hour or an hour and a half—more than that and your brain starts to fry!
4. Organizing your language exchange meetings
Start by understanding what each of you wants to work on. Is it vocabulary? Perfecting your accent? Is one of you trying to learn a language for business reasons? Or to explore another culture? Or maybe just to have fun conversations? The more you understand each other’s interests, the better the exchange will be for both of you.
Spend the first half of a meeting in one language and then switch to the other so that each person gets the maximum benefit from the experience.Language exchange pro tip #1:
Bring a dictionary or use an online application like the Larousse Dictionary or the Collins – Le Petit. You will need them a lot!
5. How to correct your French language partner
If one of you is making a lot of mistakes, the temptation will be for the other to correct them all the time. But imagine how hard it is to finish a sentence when you are interrupted after every other word!
On the other hand, if you make corrections as they speak, they are more likely to remember them.
The right balance is to offer corrections every few minutes, and only focus on the ones which they make frequently—the more you can correct each other’s common mistakes, the faster you’ll both progress.Language exchange pro tip #2:
French people can be very direct. While an American might say “You’re doing great but you could improve a little in how you pronounce the letter R,” a French person will say “You are not pronouncing R correctly” or even “Your pronunciation is bad.” Don’t be taken aback if you get such direct criticism, it’s just a French thing. And don’t be shy about correcting French people, they want it and appreciate it.
Allons-y et bon courage !
There’s nothing like a language partner to help you learn French—so, start now! And if you are lucky like me, all that time you spend together will lead to a wonderful friendship.
Do you have any useful tips for finding a language partner? Let us know in the comments box below!
1. Language partners, via Unsplash
2. Conversation, via Pixabay
3. © Keith Van Sickle
4. Dictionnaries, via Flickr
5. Parlez-vous Français?, via Frenchly
This is a great post, Keith, with excellent advice.
I remember an organization called ‘Tandem’ from back in the day as one of the first (maybe THE first) language partner matching orgs. Then, the conversation was all written, like pen pals but online – I think that it may have begun as actual postal mail). I learned a lot from my partner, a very eccentric and charming Belgian woman. We were badly matched – her English was barely comprehensible, she really needed more foundational study – and she decided not to pursue English any longer but was passionate about her own language and wanted to continue with only French. (She had even written a dictionary of Belgicisms.) We corresponded for two or three years and it was a really valuable experience.
I’ve made some really good friends who started out as language partners. It’s been so rewarding that my wife and I started a language partner program for French expatriates living in our area and it’s been very popular.
Even though I speak English fluently and even taught in US universities, the French do not consider me good enough to correct their English. They want someone who was born in the US or UK. Some sites call you back and suggest that you change the country you are listed under! Why should I?