Language exchange, is it as great as it is made out to be? - 01

Group of people learning together. Title in the middle:
Jul 05, 2020

In a real-life conversation, there is barely any time for you to edit and rewrite your sentences. While the other person is talking, you have to understand their point of view, think of your own opinion, prepare a response all while translating it to German. This is why practicing is important. As they say, übung macht den meister (practice makes perfect).

But how and where can you practice your German in a modern way for free? There are many great options for you starting from “conversational connectors” to language exchange applications.

Conversational connectors are small sentences you can use to buy yourself some thinking time. We can think of them as “emergency phrases”. Some of our favourite phrases are “Das ist eine gute Frage…”, which translates to “That’s a great question…”. This is a good one because you acknowledge the merits of the question while respectfully taking a few moments to think.

Another polite alternative is to simply ask someone “Wie, bitte?” It literally translates to: “how, please?” but it means “I beg your pardon?” If someone is speaking too quickly for you, you can save yourself from a blank stare. In German: “Entschuldigung, könnten Sie langsam sprechen?” translates to “Excuse me, could you speak slowly?”.

If you are already practicing German with a tutor, that is a great opportunity to try out these sentences. Another option is with language exchange partners. 

Language exchange refers to the process of mutual language practice. It simply means that you help someone learn your native language in exchange for them helping you learn German. 

The aim of language exchange is to develop language knowledge while improving cross-cultural communication. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to become fluent in German through this process than you might think. It works best for advanced learners who can have long conversations and need to keep their German fresh. 

Beginners will typically struggle as they are unable to say much and might simply rely on translating out of fear of trying. This defeats the purpose of language learning and makes it difficult for you to get real value out of the exchange. 

But because it is a popular option, we would like to share what students have been trying out. So where should you start?

Mobile apps are your best bet because they are available no matter where you live. You can sometimes filter by language pair to make your search much easier. A few options to get you started are Tandem, iTalki and Hellotalk.

When you have picked one, the next step is to figure out who you want to learn from and what to talk about. We recommend practicing with a German native speaker that wants to learn your mother tongue. Another option is advanced German speakers. But you have to be careful as they may carry some bad language habits which you do not want to pick up.

Many German speakers want to learn English but there are also many descendants from immigrants that want to learn their family’s origin language. This offers options for you if you are multilingual and feel more comfortable in a certain language.


How to practice German for free, Language exchange


A nice way to stand out when you create your app profile is to find a specific topic you can help them with and write it directly in your profile. For example, “let’s talk about German podcasts”. Anything would do: football, food, culture, movies. The more advanced you are, the more open-ended questions you can ask. Take interest in their day or routine. Find some common interests to add more depth to the conversation.

Don’t forget to put a bit of an effort into your profile. Get a photo and a little bit of text. Make yourself approachable but also don’t expect people to come to you. Next, you’ll want to consider how you can structure the conversation, so you both overcome any initial shyness.

Start easy and don't overwhelm yourself. Text first, then progress to voice notes and live calls. Compliments go a long way. You can point to something small: things like “your accent is great” or “your accent sounds cool, is it from a specific area?” is a great ice-breaker. 

Since this is a partnership, remember you have to split the time equally between your learning and theirs. Be considerate of their time and expectations but also make sure you are not wasting your time.

Whatever you may learn through apps with someone, a reality check is always important for dialogues that you may encounter in your daily life. Our free (sG) Dialogue Technique is a lovely little introduction into what it takes to practice German in the real world with confidence. 
Even if you don’t live in Germany, our other courses such as the Everyday German Course offer many useful techniques to prepare you for an eventual trip to Germany.

This post was written by Fatema Alzari