How to do an effective Spanish-English language exchange


Hello Monica,

I wanted to ask you about language exchanges.  This year I have found an American student to do a language exchange through my University, but neither of us knows what to talk about or how to plan our conversations in order for them to be productive and fruitful.

What can we do?
Thank you


It seems to me it’s important to answer Virginia’s question through the blog, because I imagine there are many people in a similar situation, asking themselves:  What can I speak about with my language exchange?  How can we plan for our language exchanges to be effective?

Are you in a similar situation? Do your language exchanges suck? If so, please continue reading. 

I will explain a very simple formula, through which -following only four steps- you will obtain remarkable results with your language exchange.

1) Follow a system

A language exchange shouldn’t be just talking about anything in any possible manner. Instead, it should be a balanced exchange that can give benefits to both sides. In order to achieve this result you need a system.

What is a system?

A system is a procedure aimed at achieving a particular purpose.  The good thing about having a system is that you can test it and find out what works and what doesn’t. Remember: If you don’t have a system you can’t measure results.

How to create a system

To create a system you will have to:

  • Test your initial level of English and Spanish.

Here  you have the listening comprehension test of EBPAI to check your English level
Here  you have a listening comprehension test to know your Spanish level.

Note 1: It’s advisable to use a listening comprehension test because normally your language exchanges will take place online and it is important to know exactly how well you can understand the language that you want to learn.

Note 2: The ideal situation is that both parties have a similar level because if there is a big difference, the person with the higher level will have to make a bigger effort to teach the person with the lower level. It is important to take this factor into account so that you are not caught by surprise and decide to stop your language exchange due to the imbalance.

  • Start by practicing the basic structures in both languages.

Check these examples (*)
Day English structure Examples of English conversations Spanish structure Examples of Spanish conversations
1 Personal pronouns I, you, he, she, it, you, they, we Personal pronouns Yo, tú, él, ella, ello, vosotros/as, ustedes, ellos/as, nosotros/as
2 Verb to be (present) Afirmative sentences
Preguntas, negaciones, preguntas negativas.
-He is a doctor
Vocabulary professions.
Verb ser/estar.
Difference between ser/estar
Link to practice
Oraciones afirmativas, preguntas, negaciones, preguntas negativas.
-Él es médico
-Vocabulary professions
3 Present Continuous -They are playing tennis.
-Are they playing tennis?
No, they aren't playing tennis.
Vocabulario: Verbos más comunes.
Learning to conjugate the  present tense..
Link to practice
Vocabulary: Most common verbs.
We speak with “ir”

-Yo voy a comprar.
- Él no va a comer.
- ¿Va él a dormir?

Present tense Do you study every day?
Yes, I do.
No, I don’t.
Again we learn to conjugate verbs in the present tense
Vocabulary: Most common verbs
We speak with the verb "tener."

-Yo tengo coche.
-Él no tiene coche.
(*) Tip: In order to keep the conversation interesting try to keep the subjects personal i.e. what you did last week, where you went, what you bought.

You can find the basic structures of English and the order in which to learn them on our blog.

And in this free Spanish course you will find the basic structures of Spanish and the order in which to learn them.
  • Level up little by little

As you both progress in learning each other’s languages you can try practicing more complex structures, such as for example, the English conditionals and the Spanish subjunctive.

2) Be very specific

Many language exchanges fail because people try to cover a wide range of topics without any organization. It should be quite the opposite. You must practice  very specific subjects in an orderly way, for example:
  • Practicing the alphabet:  The alphabet in English. The alphabet in Spanish.
  • Learning to conjugate verbs: You talk exclusively in the past tense. For example: the things we did yesterday. What did you do yesterday?  ¿Qué hiciste ayer? Or you talk exclusively in the future tenses. For example:  What are you going to do tomorrow?  ¿Qué harás mañana?
  • Improving your fluency: Fluency can be improved by learning to change tenses without hesitation. Therefore, the conversation in English and in Spanish should focus on changing tenses. You start with the present, then continue with the past, and pass to the future, etc.
  • Practicing pronunciation: You should focus only on a couple of sounds. For example, the sound "u" in words such as "run, sun, some, come". And in Spanish the "r" sound: in words like perro, corro, tierra.
  • Increasing your vocabulary: You ask each other the words you have learned in your previous meeting. This is very important, because – as I always say-: the vocabulary is like the bricks of a house, if there are no bricks there is no house.
3) Measure your results continually and correct each other

When you have no specific goals it is difficult to know if you’re progressing, or not.  It’s convenient to measure your performance continually. So, every time that you start a new subject (a tense, for example), you have to do exercises to find out if you are assimilating what you have learned. Have your language exchange doing exercises and measure his or her results.
In each section of the free English course you will find exercises to practice. Here, for example, there are exercises to practice pronouns in English.

VERY important: Every time your language exchange makes a mistake you must correct him or her.

4) Always ask each other for feedback

To find out if your system is working, it is necessary to ask your language exchange questions such as:. Do you think it’s right what I’m doing? Do you want to try something else? What should I change?

Sometimes people don’t want to say what they think not to offend the other party or not to create controversy. Rather than asking for a change, some people just disappear because it's the easiest thing to do. To avoid this situation and to make your language exchange last longer, you should be always asking your language exchange for feedback.

At this point, I’d like to quote Tom Peters:

"We must always consider first, before anything else, the perception of things." Tom Peters.

If we have different perceptions on how to carry out a project or task, and we don't talk about it, we will fail. Therefore, again, to make the system work: ask for feedback and always try to reach an agreement.

Are you currently doing a language exchange?  Please, leave your comment telling us what works and what doesn’t, so that more people may benefit from it.

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