Many, many bloggers that blog about learning Spanish tell you to find an intercambio (language exchange). They say it’s good to practice your Spanish, to connect with natives, things like that. A promoter of this intercambio idea is Eleena of Voices en Español fame. And there’s nothing wrong with an intercambio.
When looking for an intercambio you need to look for a specific person. A person with more or less the same interests, that studies your native language or a language you speak extremely well, the time-zone he/she is in, etc. Although this may cause some problems, it’s not unlikely that you find someone that fits the description you set. But then what? How do you connect? What to talk about? This can cause some real problems, problems that cause your little ‘language dates’ to crash and burn.
Don’t get me wrong; in the past I found some really nice intercambios, and with some of them I still speak on a regular basis. But the only intercambios I have a good connection with became my friends. And I learned so much more from them than I could have ever learned from some other random guy or girl with whom I just talked about silly things.
But the most Spanish practice I got with friends. Not some guys or girls from the internet, no. Real life friends, people I can interact with face to face. People who I call to get totally wasted with, Spanish style. People who I call after siesta to get a coffee or a granizado with. And it’s just so much more fun, and they don’t care to correct you once in a while.
It’s true that we connect with people over the internet more than ever now, and I like that. And the internet has certainly made it easier to learn languages and find native speakers of those languages. But come on, we’re talking about Spanish here. Unless you live in Uzbekistan of Kazakstan (believe me, I have some readers from those countries and they’re great :-)), it’s not really hard to find native speakers of Spanish.
Go out to bars where there are many Latin-American or Spanish people, go to a Cervantes library, go to a Spanish centre, whatever you like to do. As long as you meet Spanish speakers face to face. And no, I’m not talking about looking for a bilingual conversation group. That’ll give you the feeling that you’re studying. Really, get wasted with these Spaniards while singing songs and telling jokes in Spanish.
Another great thing about friends that speak Spanish is that they keep you going. Learning a language can be something that you do on your own, without the help and support of anyone else. And that can go well for a long time, but at some moment you’re going to hit a wall and need something new to motivate you. Friends are always there for you. When I was down because I wasn’t progressing as fast as I wanted, my Spanish friends were there to cheer me up and help getting some extra practice (totally in an informal setting, by the way). This helped me so much that I think they’re one of the main reasons I’m fluent in Spanish right now.
So to sum things up: I’m not against any form of intercambio, but if you have the opportunity to find native hispanohablantes (and don’t look for excuses unless you live in the Sahara or something), go for it. Socialize and have fun!
Photo by inocuo