A Guide to Language Exchanges

What is a language exchange?

A language exchange is when a group of people all agree to meet at a bar or cafe and practice speaking languages with each other. Usually (but not always) they’re divided into English speakers and people who want to practice English. If you want to learn a new language, they offer an excellent place to practice with native speakers. When I used to live in Madrid, I would go to language exchanges 2-3 times every week to practice Spanish.

How do I find language exchanges?

You can usually find them if you search “[city name] + language exchange” on Google or Facebook. Sometimes bloggers will aggregate lists of all the language exchanges in a city. The photo below is a schedule all of the language exchanges in Madrid every week. As you can see, there are tons of them!

Madrid language exchanges
Schedule of language exchanges in Madrid. Courtesy of MadFluent & Dave Pinto.

What’s should I expect to get from a language exchange?

Every person will have different goals and expectations as to what they will get from a language exchange. It will usually be some combination of meeting new people and practicing a new language. Here I will give you tips for both.

How do I practice a new language?

One of the best things you can do is go alone. If you go with a friend, it can be hard to break the bubble. You will wind up just talking to your friend the entire time and miss the opportunities to practice the language.

Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions to other people there. That’s why everyone is there: to teach and be taught. People will usually be patient and understanding.

You have to leave your comfort zone if you want to learn. Sometimes you will find another English speaker and wind up talking to them the entire night. It’s important to break out and try to talk to new people.

If you really want to gain valuable time practicing, you have to be a little selfish (for lack of a better word.) If others are just speaking in English, try to redirect the conversation to your target language. And if they don’t want to speak it, then find a new group of people to talk to.

Make sure to have fun. When you are laughing and joking around with people, it makes learning so much more fun. It doesn’t even feel like learning.

(Read my post about funny language conversation topics.)

How do I meet new people at language exchanges?

If you’re a shy person, it can sometimes be daunting to meet new people. But at language exchanges, everyone else is there to meet new people. Not only are the open and friendly, but you immediately have something in common: language learning!

Usually people congregate in small groups. But unlike high school cliques, they want more people in their conversation! The more the better.

In a normal bar, you have to be witty and entertaining to talk to strangers, but not here! You just walk up and say “Hi, I’m ____. I’m from ____. How about you guys?” That’s it.

(Read my post about making friends at meetups.)

What’s the next step?

If you meet some cool people that you like at the language exchange, you can swap contact information with them and meet them again. You can organize what’s called a tandem language exchange, where you meet for one-on-one practice. This is one of the best ways to learn!

You can also invite them out to hang out with your friends or stay in touch socially. It is a great way to make new friends and expand your social circle!


Want to read more about my adventures? Check out my book about fighting professional MMA in Peru: The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.

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