The Ultimate Guide to Conversational Spanish: The Best Way to Learn Spanish Free Online

Conversational Spanish

The Ultimate Guide to Conversational Spanish

Introduction

One of the problems reported most often by language learners is the lack of opportunities to practice speaking their target language on a regular basis.

Recently, I ran a survey in my Facebook Group.  I asked the members what is the most effective activity for learning Spanish.

The #1 answer:

One-on-one conversations

More than video courses, textbooks, and group classes, having one-on-one conversations with another person was reported as the most effective language learning activity.

This led me to one question…

With all of the apps and websites full of language learners, why is it still so hard to have an effective language exchange?

The answer is simple.

We often have the best intentions, but don’t know exactly how to start a language exchange.

We fumble around the Internet, declare in a few Facebook groups and forums our burning desire to learn our target language, and wonder why it doesn’t all magically work out.

This guide will help you learn the best way to establish a successful language exchange, without the frustration and pitfalls that cause language exchanges to fail.

Whether the concept of a language exchange is new to you, or you’ve tried to start one before, these steps will help you have effective language exchanges and improve your conversation skills in your target language.

Let’s get started!

What is a Spanish-English Language Exchange?

First thing’s first, what is a language exchange anyway?

Here’s my definition…

A language exchange is an arrangement between two language learners to communicate in each other’s target languages.

It’s a simple as that.

There’s a mutual understanding that each of you is learning a language that the other person can already speak with high proficiency.

How do language exchanges work?

Once you find a conversation partner (we’ll talk more about how to find an ideal language exchange partner later), the two of you decide how you will communicate (in-person, phone, video conferencing, text/messaging apps, etc.).

Generally, you will spend half of the time communicating in your target language, and half of the time communicating in your conversation partner’s target language.

The 50/50 language exchange is the most common, however some people may choose to use a hybrid approach—where you will only communicate in your target language and they will communicate only in theirs. This helps both of you focus on speaking or writing in your target language and so you can receive feedback without focusing at all on listening/reading comprehension.

It’s advantageous to have in-person or video chat interactions with an exchange partner, instead of only texting or messaging. Ideally, you will have regular spoken interactions and use social media, email, and text messaging to maintain a connection in-between sessions.

Contrary to what many people think, your language exchange partner does NOT have to be a native speaker of the language.

In some cases, it may even be better to talk to a non-native speaker.

For instance, a non-native speaker will be able to give you insights into things that only a learner may notice. A native speaker, by contrast, may tell you “That’s just the way we say it.”

Being a native speaker of a language does not guarantee you are good at speaking it or being able to explain its features.

That being said, there are still some great reasons to have native speakers as language exchange partners.

The obvious advantages of communicating with native speakers is that you will hear an authentic accent and be exposed to how people really use the language day-to-day.

You may also hear some idiomatic expressions and discuss cultural aspects that are only known by people that have grown up with the language.

This can help greatly with your understanding of the language itself and people that speak it.

This is one of the main benefits of establishing a language exchange.

While courses and textbooks will help you learn vocabulary and grammar, only through interaction with human beings that are living and breathing the language will you be able to pick up on its subtleties and quirks.

It will also comfort you to hear that no one speaks perfectly, not even native speakers. (Don’t believe me? Take a grammar test in your native language, and you may be surprised how much you get wrong.)

Ultimately, a language exchange is a great, free way to increase your exposure to a language and get it out of the books and into your real life.

Even if you would like to start looking for conversation partners, you may be wondering if now is a good time to start trying to meet new people to chat with in your target language.

So let’s dive in and find out if you are ready for a language exchange.

Related: Do You Really Need a Language Exchange Partner?

Many language learners report frustration with conversation partners that are so eager to get their practice time in, that they don’t respect your time and spend little or no time helping you practice.

If you have a conversation partner that responds to you in English, or monopolizes the conversation, it can be really frustrating and ineffective.

So how do we overcome these problems and not spend hours of wasted time?

Here are the 5 steps to a successful language exchange.

  1. Determine your goals for the language exchange
  2. Identify characteristics of your ideal language exchange
  3. Find a language exchange partner
  4. Schedule language exchange sessions
  5. Periodically review your progress

Now let’s get into details on each step.

Step 1: Determine your Spanish conversation goals

It’s important to set realistic goals for a language exchange.

Remember, you are not looking for someone to teach you. Your goal is to speak as much as possible, get feedback to correct mistakes, and learn some new vocabulary that you can use in your conversations.

Ultimately, you want to get comfortable enough with speaking your target language so that you can communicate comfortably and fluidly during social interactions and in real-world situations (talking to friends and family, traveling, shopping, etc.).

To make the most of your time, it’s a good idea to keep your language exchange sessions compatible with your overall language goals.

(Need help coming up with goals? Check out the Roadmap to Spanish Fluency for a step-by-step system to setting achievable language goals.)

Otherwise, your conversations will be pretty random and you will not benefit from them as much as you could.

Here are some important things to consider before you start looking for a language exchange partner:

  • How often do you want to have conversation practice?
  • What topics would you like to be able to discuss in your target language?
  • What vocabulary are you currently trying to memorize?
  • What’s a mistake you keep making A LOT that you would like to overcome?
  • What are some tasks that you’d like to be able to complete in your target language?
  • Is there a specific dialect I would like to learn or be exposed to?
  • What countries am I planning to visit in the next 6 months?

If you answer these questions ahead of time, it will be much easier to get the most out of your language exchange.

The answers to these questions will change over time, but it’s important to have an answer to each of these questions for at least the next 30 – 60 days.

This will make it much easier to establish a successful language exchange.

Next, we’ll go through some of the characteristics of an ideal language exchange for you and your language goals.

Step 2: Your Ideal Spanish-English Language Exchange

Before you start looking for conversation partners, you should take a moment to think about how you would like the language exchange to go.

You want to maximize your time and benefit of the language exchange to your overall language learning.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Schedule sessions for 60 minutes

Any shorter than that and you won’t have time to speak both languages in any meaningful way. Any longer, and you may get oversaturated or off topic.

If your schedule only allows for shorter sessions, I wouldn’t go any shorter than 30 minutes. And in that case, you may want to only focus on one target language per session.

  • Determine conversation topics ahead of time

Deciding what you will discuss in advance can provide focus to the conversation.

It’s much more effective to talk about one or two things than to have a conversation that touches only briefly on a wide range of topics.

Narrowing the scope of the conversation will help you reveal your missing vocabulary and mistakes much easier.

  • Make your goals clear to your conversation partner

It’s easy to get frustrated with someone for not talking about what you want, or not getting the feedback you want.

But if you are not upfront about your goals, they have no way of knowing how best to help you.

It’s important to clearly state your goals and communication preferences so that your conversation partner is aware of them.

  • Schedule practice sessions at least once a week

Language learning requires consistency to make progress. Having regularly scheduled conversation sessions will give you frequent exposure to your target language.

If you can fit in some time to speak in your language every day, that’s ideal. You should practice speaking at least 3 times per week to make real progress.

But at the bare minimum, you should have some time on your schedule blocked out every week to dedicate to conversation practice.

  • Record your sessions and review

Ask your language exchange partner for permission to record your conversations.

Your recorded conversations will provide valuable learning material for you.

Once you record, make sure you schedule some time to listen to the recording. You might notice some things you may have missed during your live conversation.

Some applications like Zoom have a built-in recording feature. You can use your voice recorder on your mobile device or one of the following apps to record your conversations:

Program NameSupported OSLink
Amolto Call RecorderWindows Vista or newerClick Here
Callnote Premium Call RecorderWindows or Mac OS XClick Here
CallTrunk for SkypeAnyClick Here
eCamm Call Recorder for SkypeMac OS XClick Here
EvaerWindows XP or newerClick Here
Evoca Call RecorderMac OS XClick Here
G-RecorderWindows or Mac OS XClick Here
iRecorderWindows XP or newerClick Here
MP3 Skype RecorderWindows Vista or newerClick Here
PamelaWindows XP or newerClick Here
TalkHelperWindows Vista or newerClick Here
TapurWindows and Mac OS XClick Here
VodburnerWindows and Mac OS XClick Here
XsplitWindows XP or newerClick Here

Mapping Out Your Ideal Language Exchange

It’s important to determine your preferences before you start searching for a language exchange partner.

Answer the following questions to give you some insight into your perfect language exchange scenario:

  1. How would you like to meet with your conversation partner?
In Person¨ Phone
¨ Coffee shop 
¨ Attend special events¨ Email
¨ Take a walk 
¨ Go to a museumVideo Chat
¨ Go to a show/play¨ Skype
¨ Group outings¨ FaceTime
¨ Other________________¨ Zoom
 ¨ Google Hangouts
 ¨ Other________________
  1. What are your preferred methods of communication in-between sessions?
¨ PhoneSocial Media
 ¨ Facebook
¨ Email¨ Instagram
 ¨ Snapchat
Text Messaging¨ Twitter
¨ SMS 
¨ WhatsApp¨ Other________________
¨ Facebook Messenger 
  • How do you want your conversation partner to provide feedback?
  • I want my conversation partner to interrupt my mistakes so I can break the patterns and bad habits I’ve developed to be able to correct them
  • I want my conversation partner to let me finish my thoughts before providing constructive feedback throughout the conversation
  • I want my conversation partner to take notes of my mistakes and tell me at the end of the conversation so I don’t become self-conscious and am able to continue the conversation
  • What is your ideal conversation length?
  • 30 minutes
  • 60 minutes
  • 90 minutes
  • What are the ideal days and times you are available to have conversation sessions over the next 30 – 90 days? (check all that apply)
 Mornings (6am-11am)Afternoons (12pm-5pm)Evenings

 

(6pm-10pm)

Mondays¨  ¨  ¨  
Tuesdays¨  ¨  ¨  
Wednesdays¨  ¨  ¨  
Thursdays¨  ¨  ¨  
Fridays¨  ¨  ¨  
Saturdays¨  ¨  ¨  
Sundays¨  ¨  ¨  
  • What interests would you like to discuss in your target language?
¨ Current Events¨ Sports¨ Politics
¨ Spirituality¨ Travel¨ Gardening
¨ Music¨ Movies¨ Books
¨ Wellness/Fitness¨ Science¨ Philosophy
Other(s)  
¨ _________________¨ _______________¨ _________________
¨ _________________¨ _______________¨ _________________
  • What topics do you want to avoid discussing in your target language?
¨ Politics¨ Religion¨ Relationships
Other(s)  
¨ _________________¨ _______________¨ _________________
¨ _________________¨ _______________¨ _________________
  • What level do you want your conversation partner to have in English? (or your native language)

*Remember: If you are at an intermediate or higher level in your target language, look for language partners with low proficiency in English

  • Fluent
  • Advanced
  • Intermediate
  • Beginner

Step 3: Find Spanish Conversation Partners

It’s important to find a conversation partner with common interests and a compatible personality.

Just because you are learning a language, doesn’t mean you have to suffer through irrelevant, dull, boring, rude, awkward, or uninteresting conversations.

If you do, you may start to view speaking your target language with being an unpleasant experience.

In the long-run, this can hurt your motivation since you’re less likely to be looking forward to your conversation sessions.

If someone has values, a personality, or communication style that are not compatible with yours, it may be difficult to chat with them. You are already trying to overcome the language barrier, and any other factors such as these can muddy the waters unnecessarily.

You should be looking for a conversation partner that you could see becoming friends with in the future.

It’s much easier and more comfortable to chat with someone you view as a potential friend, rather than drudging through uncomfortable conversations.

Related: How to Find a Language Exchange Partner

No matter the kind of conversation you are looking for, there is an option out there for you.

No site or app is perfect. If you don’t like the first one you choose, try again or use a combination of sites to meet your needs.

Search for a conversation partner that is interested in topics you’d like to discuss in your target language. Find someone with whom you have common ground: similar interests, characteristics, and life experiences. This will make it easier to find things to talk about. Try to gauge their personality by their posts or profile information. Are they too serious? A little sarcastic? Does that annoy you? If so, you might want to consider a different conversation partner to reach out to.

Once you find a few people, the next step is to introduce yourself and start scheduling some times to chat. We’ll get to that next.

A Note About Safety

Use common sense when interacting with people that live in different countries, or anyone online that you don’t know.

Don’t reveal detailed personal information or enter into any financial transactions no matter how sympathetic the person may seem.

As with the Internet as a whole, there are some people who use these apps to find people to take advantage of. Things to look out for are sharing sad stories to gain your empathy or pity, or flirtatious comments, and intrusive questions about your personal life.

There may be cultural differences in how people communicate, but don’t talk to anyone that makes you uncomfortable.

Olly Richards from I Will Teach You a Language talks about how to stay safe during language exchanges in his podcast…

Step 4: Schedule Your Spanish Conversation Practice

Once you find a person you may want to establish a language exchange with, you’ll have to send them a message.

If you meet them in person at a meetup or other event, you’ll want to exchange phone numbers or social media contact information so you can follow-up.

Most often, you’ll be virtually meeting people via the Internet, so you want to prepare an introductory message to send.

This first message should explain clearly who you are and what your goals are. I can’t tell you how many people send a generic “hey, I want to be your language partner” message.

I personally have received hundreds of these types of messages, and they often get ignored. Why?  You are making me do the work.  I’ll have to go to your profile and see who you are, and then respond with “Hi, nice to meet you.”  This can go on and on without ever really explaining what it is that you want.

While it’s important to build rapport, that will happen when you actually talk to the person. When sending a message, you want to be cordial, but clear.

Here are some sample scripts you can use to establish a language exchange.

Script 1: Introductory message to potential Spanish conversation partners

“Hello [their name], I’m [your name] and I’m looking for someone to practice Spanish with.  I’m at a/an [your Spanish level] level and I really want to have conversations on a regular basis to improve my [target language].

I live in [your current city/country] and I’m a [your profession/year in school].  In my free time, I like to [list your hobbies and interests].  I noticed that you also [mention something you saw from their profile that you have in common or find interesting].

If you’re interested in practicing your [their target language] and think you can help me with my [your target language] please contact me.  You can reach  me at [your contact information].

I look forward to hearing from you!

– [your name]

Example:

Hello John, I’m Vanessa and I’m looking for someone to practice Japanese with. I’m a beginner and really want to have conversations on a regular basis to improve my Japanese.

I live in Chicago and I’m a financial analyst. On the weekends, I like to go to the movies, play soccer, and I just started taking guitar lessons.  I noticed that you also play soccer.

If you’re interested in practicing your English and think you can help me with my Japanese, please contact me. You can message me through Skype (my Skype ID is vanessadoegoes) or you can email me at vanessadoe@gmail.com.

I look forward to hearing from you!

-Vanessa”

A few tips:

  • It’s a good idea to write your messages in both your target language and English (or your native language).
  • Mention something about their profile that you noticed so they know you’re not just sending the same mass message to everyone. That will engage the person more and increase your chances of getting a response.

Script 2: Response to Initial Inquiry

This is a sample message you can send if you get a favorable response to your introductory message.

“[Their name],

Thanks for getting back to me.

I’m available to chat for [duration] minutes on [date] at [time] OR [date] at [time] [your time zone].  (You can find your timezone here http://www.worldtimebuddy.com)

Which time works best for you?

– [your name]”

Example:

“John,

Thanks for getting back to me.

I’m available to chat for an hour on Friday, July 3 at 2pm CST or Saturday, July 4 at 5pm CST (You can find your timezone here: http://www.worldtimebuddy.com)

Which time works best for you?

– Vanessa”

A few tips:

  • Always use the person’s name in your message, as it feels more personal.
  • Be specific when scheduling. “I’m available this Thursday, April 4 at 4pm or 5pm CST” is better than “I have some time on Fridays between 2pm and 6pm.” This will cut down on the back and forth and save time when coordinating your schedule with theirs.
  • Propose more than one time. Allow some flexibility by providing 2 or 3 options.
  • Try using an app like Doodle, which allows you to propose dates and times on a calendar.

Your conversation partner will respond through the link that Doodle provides, and you can accept and automatically update your calendar.

You can access http://www.doodle.com and schedule using the free version.

Script 3: Confirmation message

“Great! I’ve been learning [grammar, vocabulary, etc.] lately so please give me feedback by [your preference for receiving feedback].

I look forward to speaking with you on [date] at [time] ([time] in your timezone).  I will call you on [phone number, video chat software, etc.].

Talk to you soon.”

Example:

“Great! I’ve been learning the future tense lately so please give me feedback by stopping me while I’m talking if you hear me make a mistake.

I look forward to speaking with you on Friday at 12pm (3pm in your timezone). I will call you on Skype.

Talk to you soon.”

A few tips:

  • Follow-up with your message by sending a calendar invite so it will appear on both of your calendars. Make sure the reminder setting is turned on.
  • It’s best to establish that you will be the one to contact them, so you’re both not sitting there at the scheduled time waiting for the other person to call. This small detail can cut down on confusion.
  • Ask the person if you can record the session after your first conversation (at minimum, after you introduce yourself and talk for a few minutes). You may make someone uncomfortable if you ask them to record a session in your confirmation message before you have spoken to them for the first time. You’re still a stranger at this point.

Script 4: Follow up message AFTER your first conversation:

“It was great chatting with your earlier! It would be great if we can chat every [day] at [time].  Does that sound good? If not, let me what days/times work better for you.”

Ex: “It was great chatting with you earlier! It would be great if we can chat every Thursday at 2pm. Does that sound good? If not, let me what days/times work better for you.”

A few tips:

  • Once you receive a favorable response, follow-up by sending a recurring calendar invite.

After your initial conversation, you may find out that the language exchange won’t work due to scheduling conflicts, or you simply just didn’t hit it off with the person.

In this case, send the person a follow-up message acknowledging them for their time but letting the know nicely that you don’t want to continue the language exchange.

Follow up message AFTER your first conversation (do not want to continue):

“Thank you for taking the time to chat with me yesterday. I don’t think we’ll be able to have conversations on a regular basis, but I appreciate your time.

Best of luck with your language learning!”

~

With some trial and error, you should be able to find a few potential conversation partners. Try to limit the number of messages you send out initially so it’s manageable, so only reach out to people you genuinely think you’ll be able to connect with.

After you’ve had a few conversations, you’ll be able to adjust to figure out what’s working for you and what isn’t.

Step 5: Evaluate your progress

After you’ve had a few conversations, it’s important to evaluate if the language exchange is meeting your needs.

If you have a conversation partner that frequently missing scheduled conversations, or spends too much time speaking English, don’t be afraid to remind them of your goals for the language exchange.

It’s also OK to decide not to continue with a language exchange that isn’t working for you.

As your level improves, you’ll also want to consider the types of conversation partners you have. As a beginner, if you’re talking to people with high levels of English proficiency you’ll want to shift to having conversations with native speakers of your target language that will be less likely to speak to you in English.

Also make sure you have realistic expectations. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Do NOT expect to understand every word someone says
  • Do NOT expect to click with everyone
  • Determine your goals for each conversation and share them with your language exchange partner
  • Become familiar with common conversation topics
  • Talk about things that truly interest you

If you’re not familiar with some basic conversation in your target language, you’ll want to prepare for your conversation practice.

Some of my recommended programs for conversation preparation include:

 

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this guide to successful language exchanges.

With regular practice, you’ll find that you improve speaking your target language by leaps and bounds.

Best of luck with your language exchanges!

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