There is nothing more immersive in learning Japanese than living in Japan, but even then, it can be hard to find opportunities in everyday life. This is where a good language exchange program can help. Language exchange is a great way to support your practice and improve your skills while also making friends and socializing. If you want to try this method of learning Japanese, keep reading as we explain the benefits, preparation tips, and where to find a partner to talk with.
It can be very easy to fall into a never-ending cycle of wanting to make Japanese friends to practice the language but not have a high enough level of communication to have a meaningful conversation.
In addition, native Japanese people who have not had much experience talking with non-native speakers are often unaware of the necessity of simplifying and slowing down the conversation and explaining meanings if necessary.
Therefore, it can be beneficial to supplement your learning by taking part in a language exchange where both people in the conversation have the same understanding and objective. A language exchange partner will be understanding if you have trouble expressing yourself, which can take some of the pressure off, thereby making the conversation more comfortable and natural.
There are many benefits to language exchange, and with the range of programs available in Japan and online, it is a great way to improve your Japanese skills. One benefit is the strong advantage that conversing with a native speaker brings, which can help you understand and practice Japanese in the same way native Japanese speakers do, rather than relying on “textbook Japanese,” which is often too formal or impractical for daily use.
Language exchange also allows for further understanding of Japanese culture and small nuances and cues that can be missed or misunderstood in a classroom setting.
Before taking part in a language exchange, it is a good idea to do some preparation. While the conversation is supposed to be natural and spontaneous, it is also important to not go in without any idea of what to do.
The first thing to do is to consider your level. Make sure you have a basic understanding of hiragana and katakana, two of the writing systems used in Japan.
You should also be able to make a self-introduction and some simple sentences in order to keep the conversation going.
It is useful to make some goals of what you want to achieve in the exchange. This can be something like certain grammar points you want to use, certain topics you want to try to talk about, or using varied vocabulary.
It is also useful to make a rough plan of some topics that you think will come up and how you can talk about them. If you are meeting someone for the first time, think about common introduction topics. However, it is necessary to not be too rigid with the plan. Language exchange is supposed to be natural and free-flowing, not a memorized classroom dialogue.
Another important thing to consider is the other person. Who are you talking to and what are their goals? What is their second-language level? Language exchange usually consists of two people who want to learn each other’s native language, so the person you are talking to is most likely also trying to learn and practice. Make sure to be considerate of this and not only focus on your own language learning.
There are many ways to find a language partner in Japan. One of the most natural ways is to join a hobby group or class. This will introduce you to a number of native Japanese speakers who have similar interests as you. Hobbies are always a great way into a conversation and in this relaxed situation many Japanese people will be happy to help you practice the language.
Another way to find a language partner is to go to an English cafe, which are spaces set up for English learners looking to practice. It is important to look into whichever cafe you intend to visit as some are specifically English only, while others facilitate an exchange of both languages. For Japanese language learners, it is necessary to go to a cafe in the second category.
Many cities have Facebook and Meetup groups that arrange regular language exchange gatherings. By joining one of these groups online you can gauge the general atmosphere and decide to attend a meetup. Beyond this, there are also many online language exchange websites and apps.
There are specific websites and apps devoted to language exchange. These can be great resources for practicing Japanese, especially if you have an irregular schedule, don’t have much free time, or are unable to attend gatherings in public.
HelloTalk is one of the most popular language exchange apps available. Users are able to create a profile and specify their native language, target language, and language level. They can then make posts, in a similar way to other social media platforms, but native speakers can see the posts and correct spelling, grammar, etc. while also commenting about the topic. HelloTalk also has a chat function that can provide more in-depth, one-on-one conversations.
Tandem is a popular website devoted to language exchange. Users can create a profile and search for potential language partners, send a chat request, and start a language exchange conversation. All users have a proper profile photo to allow for transparency and trust among the users.
Sewayou is an app for finding real-life language exchange partners. It allows you to search on an interactive map for language learners close to you. You can set a place and available times that you would like to meet and use this information to find someone whose goals and availability matches yours. You can then meet and practice in real life.
Speaky is a way to practice chatting with a range of people. Similar to many chat apps, you are able to make calls (audio or video), direct from your browser. Standard text chatting is also available.
Conversation Exchange is a straightforward website that lets you sort by various criteria to find a language exchange partner. You can choose from pen pals, to online chatting, to real-life meetups, so users can search for partners who wish to communicate using the same methods. While searching, you can also see how long a user has been with the site and when they last logged in, which can help eliminate messages to users who no longer use the site.
The Mixxer is a great way to find new language exchange partners and then connect with them through your preferred communications app (Skype, Zoom, etc.). There is also a writing aspect to the website where native speakers can correct a paragraph of writing to help you improve other aspects of your language learning.
HiNative is a website that lets users ask questions related to their target language and native speakers can answer. This is wonderful for checking everything from grammar points, to vocabulary, to more nuanced aspects of the language.
There are a range of language exchange options available, ranging from in-person meetups to online chatting, that can be used in conjunction with other online Japanese learning tools and Japanese learning apps. Language exchange is a great way to improve your language skills beyond the realm of the classroom and textbook.
If you currently live in Japan and need help with your language skills, we offer a wealth of resources, from our comprehensive list of Japanese language schools in the Tokyo area to many detailed guides on understanding Japanese language that you will encounter in your daily life. Don’t let language get in the way of your life in Japan! If you are interested in taking an official test to assess your Japanese Language Proficiency, please check our article about the JLPT.
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