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You’re probably learning English because you want to be able to speak it.
Maybe you’ve dreamt about walking up to a pub in a small English town and engaging in witty banter with the locals. Or maybe you just want to make small talk with your mother-in-law in a way that doesn’t feel like pulling teeth.
I’ve taught English for years. When I talk about learning goals with my students, virtually everyone says their only real goal is to be able to speak English fluently.
In another article, I’ve given you a tonne of strategies that you can use to improve your English speaking ability when you don’t have a speaking partner. If you really can’t find a conversation partner, those strategies are helpful.
But the Internet has made it quite easy to find someone to chat with if you want to.
In this article, I want to give you my top tips on how you can find a conversation partner, and have a successful conversation with them that will actually help you improve your English speaking.
Why is conversation a good thing?
To get better at something, you have to practise it. That goes for speaking, too. The more you do it, the better you get.
There are no shortcuts or ‘hacks’ that will get you speaking like a native unless you actually practise.
I’m sure you know this already, but to remind you, here are some of the reasons why having conversations in English will boost your learning:
- Conversation is a type of active learning. We’ve said elsewhere that you should aim to learn actively—passive learning is not a very effective way to learn English. The beauty of a conversation is that it requires you to actively participate.
- People adapt to your level. Conversation provides immediate feedback: if you don’t understand something, you can’t reply. Your partner can then help you by repeating or clarifying or using different words. This automatic feedback and responsiveness is part of the reasons conversations are such good language practice.
- It’s fun. The best way to learn a language is by doing activities you like. Talking to others is often an interesting and enjoyable experience. It’s a learning activity, but it usually doesn’t feel like studying.
Conversation is a great way to practise and actually improve your spoken English.
Does my conversation partner need to be a native speaker?
But you knew that. You’re here because you want to chat with people in English but you don’t know where to find them!
First, though, do you need to find a native English speaking conversation partner?
Although it might be ideal to speak with a native speaker, you don’t have to.
Native speakers are great because they can provide model language the way it is actually used. They speak the language, so they really know it. They can tell you if something sounds strange, or better ways to use language. So a native speaker might be the ideal conversation partner.
But you can get many of the benefits of practicing a language from conversation with non-natives, too. Speaking with other learners will still help you develop confidence speaking, it will still help your brain practice formulating sentences using English words and grammar, and it will still give your mouth muscles practice pronouncing English words.
Indeed, you might feel less nervous speaking with other learners. If you usually feel self-conscious about your English speaking, other English learners might be more comfortable conversation partners for you.
Also, I should just say that, in my experience, non-native English teachers are some of the best English teachers. I taught English to European students in England for a summer, and my colleagues from Greece were easily among the best teachers in our school. They had a grasp of English grammar that few of the rest of us native speakers had.
So, sure, you might prefer to find a native English speaking conversation partner. That’s great.
But don’t worry if you can’t find one. There are lots of people who are fluent in English that aren’t native speakers that are just as effective conversation partners. And even people who are learning English can be great conversation partners, too.
Where can you find a conversation partner?
There are lots of people who will speak English with you and they aren’t hard to find. Here are some places you can look for a conversation partner.
Look for people in your life that speak English or are learning it.
For example, I am learning Portuguese. One of my best friends at home in Canada has family from Portugal and he speaks fluent Portuguese. We usually speak in English together, but every once in a while we make an effort to speak just in Portuguese to help me develop my language skills.
Tell your friends, family, and coworkers that you want to practise speaking English and see if anyone volunteers to help.
Meetup is a website where people with similar interests get together to hang out. I used it a lot a few years ago when I was learning French.
Most cities will have an English conversation club meetup and they’re usually free or low cost. Sign up on the website, and then search your city for English conversation groups. You’ll have a great conversation and might meet people who are interested in having a one-on-one conversation with you outside the group as well.
Language exchange apps
A language exchange pairs two people that are learning each other’s language. So you might speak Farsi and want to learn English. Your partner would be someone who speaks English and is learning Farsi.
Language exchanges are a great way to share your language while learning a new one.
These days there are a tonne of language exchange apps and communities online. Here are some language exchange apps and websites that you can check out:
- Conversation Exchange
- My Language Exchange
- Polyglot Club
- The Mixer
- Easy Language Exchange
- Language Share
There’s a lot there. Just pick one to try and see if it works for you. If not, try a different one!
Pro tip: The Leonardo English Community is a member-only community for upper-intermediate and above English learners. You can become a member of Leonardo English and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, many of whom are looking for English conversation partners. As a member of Leonardo English you’ll also get access to our monthly live sessions, and you might be able to find a conversation partner there.
Social media is designed to connect you with others… so it makes sense it would be a good way to find conversation partners.
Here are some ways to use social media to find language partners:
- Facebook groups. Look for groups of English learners or for language exchange groups. Post in a group that looks interesting and say that you are looking for a conversation partner. Be careful with who you connect with, as my experience is that not everyone in these groups is looking only for ‘conversation exchange’. A great option is The Chat Box (let the admins know that you found out about it from the Leonardo English blog when you apply to join).
- Join a WhatsApp group. There are tonnes of WhatsApp groups for easy language learning (here’s 100+). Join a group and participate. Look for others who want to chat in English and message them directly.
- Join a Discord server. There are several servers on Discord aimed at English learners. Join one and participate in the discussion. If you’re not sure what Discord is or how to use it to learn English, check out this video.
- YouTube comments. Find videos that teach people English and then look in the comments. There are often tonnes of people looking for speaking partners. Try one of these videos—I’ve seen several people looking for language partners in the comments under them.
It’s a little unconventional, but the best way to learn English is to do activities that are fun and exciting. And flirting with strangers can absolutely be fun and exciting! Set your Tinder, Bumble, or OkCupid profile to an English speaking country and start swiping to see what happens. If someone seems interesting, ask if they would like to have a voice or video conversation.
Reddit language community
Reddit is a large forum for sharing just about anything. There are lots of people in the language learning communities on Reddit that are looking for conversation partners. Either respond to a post by someone else or create your own.
Online chat with strangers
Another possibility is just to find a regular English chat website. There are a few out there that I’m aware of, but I know that some of them can get a bit creepy.
One of my friends uses the Interpals chat room to practise English with native speakers. He says that he has had mostly good experiences on that site. You could also try sites like ChatRoulette, but you might be more likely to have an awkward experience on it. Proceed with caution.
If you just want to speak in English without the hassle of finding strangers that you get along with, you might prefer to just find an online English tutor.
While one-on-one tutoring is one of the most effective teaching methods, they’re not always worth what you pay for. Check out this article to help you decide whether tutor is right for you.
If you do decide to hire a tutor, some of the most popular options are:
Naturally, if you are hiring an online English tutor then it’s more of a lesson, not an exchange, so you should expect to speak in English for all of the conversation, and you should expect a level of professionalism that you shouldn’t expect in a normal conversation exchange.
If you are thinking of finding an English teacher online, we've written some extensive guides on the major websites:
Finding an English Teacher Online with italki: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Finding an English Teacher Online with Preply: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
How to organise a relationship with a conversation partner for success
Okay, you’ve found your partner.
Really though, that’s the easy part.
As you’ve seen, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different places that you can find a conversation partner. There are more learners of English than learners of any other language in the world, so finding a partner shouldn’t be hard.
The difficult part is actually setting your relationship up for success, so that you can both get the most out of the conversation that you have together.
Here are my top tips on how to make the most out of your conversation.
Prepare in advance
- Choose a time that works for both of you. Don’t forget the time difference if there is one. If it’s going to be a regular thing, you can find a time that you will both be able to make every week.
- Choose the application you’ll use. If you’re having your conversation online, Skype and Zoom are great. You can also use Whereby, which is easy to use, free, and doesn’t require any downloads.
- Decide how much time you’ll spend on each language. With language exchanges, it’s typical to spend half of your time on each.
- Think about what you want from the exchange. Do you want to work on pronunciation? Vocabulary? The past perfect tense? Tell your partner your goals so they can help you practise.
- Try not to rehearse in advance. A conversation is meant to be off the cuff—the point is to listen and respond. If you’re nervous, you might be tempted to try to memorise speaking points, but I encourage you to just go with the flow. If you really want to prepare, you can practise verb conjugations. You can use spaced repetition to do that.
During the conversation
Talk about how you want to give and receive feedback
Some people like to know all of the mistakes they make. Others don’t—they just want to talk. In my training to be an English teacher, I was taught to correct errors on accuracy tasks like worksheets, exercises, and so on—things where the goal is to practise correct usage. But I was taught that on fluency tasks—like when we’re just talking—it’s not ideal to correct every little error because it can interrupt the flow and make people self-conscious. So my advice is to only correct people if they ask for it or if you are having trouble understanding them. But talk with your partner about what will work best for you both.
Enjoy yourself! This is supposed to be a fun way to use your language skills. Sure, you might feel nervous about meeting a new person. And you might be worried about your language skills. But take a deep breath, and then try to enjoy the process.
Be comfortable with mistakes
Mistakes will happen and they’re actually an important part of learning a language. Don’t worry too much about them. Try to enjoy them.
Watch the time
At the beginning of your conversation, hopefully, you talked about how much time you would spend speaking each language. Try to respect that and switch languages at the appropriate time.
Keep track of new words
Use your favourite vocabulary app or notepad to remember new vocabulary.
Language conversation topics
Feeling stuck in conversation? Try asking about one of these topics.
- Ask about your partner’s country and their life there.
- Ask about plans they have for next weekend or what they did last weekend
- Ask what the biggest thing on their mind right now is
- Talk about current events or recent news items
- Ask about slang expressions from their region
- Ask about what they’re grateful for
- Ask about their greatest recent achievement
- Talk about food and how to make their favourite meal
- Talk about something interesting you learned recently (perhaps something you heard on the latest English Learning for Curious Minds podcast episode).
Another option is to try the Fast Friends activity. It’s an activity that was designed by psychologists to help people to become friends. It’s just a series of questions that start fairly superficial and gradually become more personal. Have a look at the questions to see if you might enjoy the activity.
Ending the conversation
At the end of your chat, let your partner know if you’d like to meet again! Take a moment to set up your next conversation. The more regularly you can schedule your conversation, the better. You can also quickly talk about anything that didn’t work or any changes you might like to make for the next conversation.
Things to watch out for
As a last note, I just want to help you avoid any uncomfortable situations—especially with online conversation partners. The community here on Leonardo English is fantastic, but unfortunately not every Internet community is as awesome as ours.
I know you’ve got your common sense, but here are a few things to be especially wary of in online conversations:
- People asking for too much contact information. Unless you really trust the person, I wouldn’t suggest giving out your phone number, address, or even last name. Stick with providing only your skype username or Zoom information.
- People asking for money or payment information. This is a bit obvious, but it’s worth saying: keep your payment information safe. There are all kinds of scams on the Internet these days, and some people try to make online friends so that they can ask for money.
- People asking to meet in person. Sure, after a while, you could develop a true friendship with someone and decide to visit them in real life. But when you’re just starting a conversation, it’s probably not a good idea to meet in person. Keep your relationship virtual until you feel very comfortable with your conversation partner.
Trust your feelings. If you ever feel uncomfortable on a chat, it’s okay to end the call.
Find a conversation partner and improve your English
Using English is the best way to learn it. When you find a conversation partner that you can really connect with, you have the opportunity not just to practise your English, but to actually make a friend.
I really encourage you to build conversation into your English study programme. The more you speak, the more comfortable you’ll get with speaking and the better you’ll get at it.
It can feel a bit awkward meeting strangers, especially if you still feel clumsy in English. But once you get through the discomfort, you might come to really enjoy it.
So don’t put it off any longer! Go look for your conversation partner and get speaking.