Dutch Project Notes #5: A Conversation Partner!

I spoke Dutch to another human for the first time last week! I’m pretty excited about the accomplishment (especially for an introvert like me), and I hope this will lead to more progress in Dutch.

If y’all don’t know, language exchange is a neat way to practice your target languages, even if you live overseas and have no hope of coming across a native speaker ever. This is certainly the case with Dutch in California, where I live. Generally, you can find a partner who natively speaks your target language and wants to learn yours at sites like iTalki and Conversation Exchange (I prefer the latter– I think it has less frivolous users). Then you set up a time with them and talk on Skype for about an hour or so, half the time in your target language, half the time in the language they want to learn.

This method is great when it works out, frustrating when it doesn’t. If you’re a serious language learner, it’s annoying when the vast majority of users on iTalki seem to have made accounts for the hell of it. A lot of people you message will never answer. The ones who do respond will likely flake out when you set up times to talk, unfortunately. Such is life and dealing with people. It can be difficult to find someone with whom you have enough in common to keep conversations going over several meetings. Ideally, you’d want to find a person you might want to be friends with if you had met in real life!

Not to mention, I’ve had a hard time finding partners, being a woman on the internet. It often seems like most people on iTalki are there to find people of the opposite gender to chat up while practicing languages. Thus, I usually try to find female partners in the hopes that this won’t happen. I’m there to learn and practice, and I want the other person to have the same motives.

All those limitations aside, I managed to find a partner through Conversation Exchange! Last week I talked to a Dutch woman, who’s around my age and in the same “stage” of life. Her English was spectacular (which I was expecting), so I felt like the exchange was a little uneven. My Dutch was, at best, creative. She didn’t seem to mind, though. I had a hard time understanding her in Dutch, but I definitely got easier over the course of the half hour. It was great practice, and a good indicator of where I am in terms of output. But, I was exhausted the rest of the day 😀

Just as a note, I want to say that there are other ways of practicing output without having to do a language exchange. Writing, I think, has a lot of the same benefits as speaking. You can talk to yourself, or read out loud. Language exchanges can be a hassle to set up, and if you aren’t really interested in talking with a random internet person, I’d suggest skipping it.

Nevertheless, this one went pretty well (although I’m a perfectionist and kind of beat myself up for my broken Dutch), and I hope to keep improving!

Have you ever done a language exchange? What do you think about it? 


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