How to find native speakers to practice with.

Chongqing, one of my favorite cities in China

I’ve been getting some positive feedback from my blog post about practicing with natives but several people have asked me how to actually find native speakers to practice with, especially when not in a Mandarin speaking country.

So you’re not currently in China, but want to practice Mandarin with some natives. You’re tired of asking your native friends as you don’t want to just use them for their Mandarin.

This was me after returning from my exchange year in China.

So what can you do to find native people to practice with? I’ve managed to effectively do this in the last 6 months, so I thought I would share what I’ve been doing to find natives.

Be picky

Photo by 偉宗 勞 on Unsplash

Before we get into actually finding natives to practice with, I want to talk a little about who you should be trying to find.

As native English speakers, we can afford to be picky.

The reality is that there is a vast amount of Chinese natives who are actively looking to learn English, compared to English natives looking to learn Chinese.

I personally take advantage of that by not just accepting anyone to practice with. I want my practices to be as effective as possible. What’s effective for you will most likely be different than what’s effective for me.

Note - This is going to take some trial and error with different people to find out what you like as well as find natives to suit your preferences.

Having said that, here are some things to look out for when trying to find a good language exchange partner:

Fairness

Unfortunately, you may encounter some people who will just want to practice exclusively in their target language with you, and won’t give you a chance to speak some Mandarin.

The best people to practice with are definitely the people who are not only motivated to learn their target language, but are also willing to help you with learning Mandarin.

A good way to test this is by asking to 30 minutes of only Mandarin and then 30 minutes of only English.

Good Timing

You could have the best language exchange partner in the world, but if you both can’t find a shared time to practice, then who cares?

Try to communicate with your partner an agreed time every day or every x amount of days so that you not only keep consistent, but can ensure you both have the time to practice with each other.

Matching Hobbies

This isn’t super important, but I’ve found it help with motivation of practice, as you can speak about stuff you both enjoy. It also means you get the potential to learn more vocabulary related to things you actually find interesting.

Some of the apps below have sections in the profiles of people so that you find people with similar interests.

Apps to help find native speakers

Thanks to the internet, we now have the ability to speak with others across the world with ease. This is especially helpful for when we aren’t in China but want to practice Chinese with natives. There are several apps or websites that you can to find natives. Here I’ll list the ones I have personally used.

HelloTalk

HelloTalk

HelloTalk is a phone application that is built for language exchange. It has a worldwide community so that you can find natives in your target language no matter if it’s Chinese or something else entirely.

As well as finding natives to practice with, it also provides a platform to communicate, in a kind of social media style where you have public ‘moments’, as well as a messaging section to exchange with people.

Be careful

Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are quite a number of people who treat HelloTalk almost like a dating app and will be quite odd.

The best way I’ve found to combat this is make sure you don’t upload any photos of yourself, so that the people who message you for exchange are more likely to be just wanting to learn English.

Groups

HelloTalk has group chats where there can be 100s of Chinese with almost no foreigners. In a lot of cases, the “english natives” are actually fake. These group chats are great for that exact reason as people will be excited to see an actual English native and will want to speak with you. This also has the advantage that you don’t need to wait long times for people to reply, as there will be multiple people in these group chats.

Try not to repeat the same introduction

It can be easy to go over the basic things every time: age, job/student, location etc.

Make sure to try to vary conversations and get outside of your comfort zone when speaking so that you’re constantly learning.

Note - Make sure to check out How I practice with Natives to learn Chinese effectively.

Tandem

Tandem

Tandem is another app very similar to HelloTalk, which allows you to find exchange partners for your target language.

Signing up is more rigorous, as they review every application to register. This means that Tandem is more safe and language focused than HelloTalk.

Personally I haven’t used this application as much as HelloTalk, but there isn’t a specific reason for that really.

In my experience, it felt like the people on this app were more serious and committed to learning their target language. I would get quite a few requests to arrange daily conversations to practice. Where as on HelloTalk it felt more casual like just making friends almost.

In person opportunities

If you, like me, are at University, you are in luck! Most universities have message boards or something similar where you can post an ad asking to find a native Chinese speaker to do language exchange.

Most towns/cities will have a local language/cultural center. These places not only will have lessons or courses, but also provide a venue for language learning within your community.

This can allow you to meet in person which will most likely help you improve more easily.

Conclusion

That concludes todays post.

Hopefully after reading this you now feel like you can find some native speakers more easily!

Did I miss any apps or opportunities for finding natives?

Let me know in the comments below!

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