Language Learning First Dates

A first dates can be scary, especially with a new language partner. That's why I am sharing my tips to calm your nerves and get the most out of it!

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and so lots of you will most likely be thinking about first dates. Especially if you have been watching the program on Channel 4. But, I’m not here to give romance advice… I’m all about languages!

Have you ever considered trying to find a language partner? Someone you can exchange your language with? Well, I have a language partner that I’ve been friends with for over 7 years now. Imagine our relationship like a modern day pen pal situation only electronic! When meeting anyone new, there’s always a first time or a ‘first date’, whether it be romantic or not, it’s very similar. It can be stressful or scary, after all you’re meeting someone new for the first time, you’re not sure if you’re going to like them (or them you)! 

So, here are some tips and tricks I found that work for smashing your language learning first dates…

Prepare an introduction

Introduce yourself to your new language learning friend

Preparation is key. Every first date starts the same. You will introduce yourself and ask all the standard questions. “How old are you?” …”Where are you from?”

A good tip is to imagine you will be speed dating… you have a speedy 2 minutes to find out about the person sitting in front of you… what do you ask? Or what do you tell them about yourself? 

By answering these quick fire questions you’ll be able to identify any words or phrases that you are missing. You can then practice these so you’ll be off to a smooth start and shake off those nerves! 

Choose which language you want as the “common” language.

When you start an exchange, it’s a good idea to pick the language you both want to use. One common language that you use when you are organising your meetings or doing that general admin stuff behind the scenes. Normally that language will stick, so it’s good to give it a little thought in advance.

One option is to choose the language you are both stronger in, to ease the communication or choose the language you are weaker in to force yourself to use it. Either way, it’s something worth thinking about and discussing beforehand.

Alternatively consider using both. When I met my Italian language partner, we communicated in English and Italian in all of our conversations. That way, when the conversation arrived it wasn’t automatic that we spoke in English every time. We took it in turns. After all, he is learning English and I’m learning Italian, so it’s only fair! The way we work is that I start first in Italian one time and then he would start first in English the next. For us, that worked really well!

Think of some questions you want to ask them (and be asked)

Having a short list of questions (and not just the simple introduction questions like “how are you?”) as this can be a nice backup if you run out of things to say or if nerves seem to be getting the best of you. . . Think about having questions in both languages too so you have a prompt for both halves of the conversation.

Remember, that it’s also good to think about how you would reply because chances are they will ask you the same thing back.

How do you want to be corrected

Corrections on language first dates are always important
When my wife says she has a few corrections for my writing…

Unlike a lesson, corrections in a language exchange aren’t always an easy subject. Some people won’t give you any corrections (saying you are amazing) and others will interrupt you every 10 seconds. Everyone is different so it’s good to think about what you like and tell them beforehand. Asking them their preference would also be polite.

However, it’s important to remember that a language partner isn’t a teacher so they won’t always be able to explain why you make a mistake. Even if they can tell you what it is.

During the conversation

Now the conversation has arrived. You clicked “accept call” on Skype or you sat down at the table in the coffee shop. What’s next?


It might sound a little silly but humour me… When you are meeting someone for the first time you want to seem like a positive, fun person. Someone they want to spend time with. Smiling is the perfect way to create that impression. It’s also infectious, so normally, the other person will smile too! Which will help you stay relaxed. Talking to someone who is smiling is a lot easier than someone showing no emotion. (as I am told regularly by my wife… but that’s another story)!

I once heard about telecom sales staff being trained to smile while they are on the phone. Even though the person on the other end of the line couldn’t see them, and as a result the company had a rise in sales. The communication was easier and the rapport was better. The same can apply to your first dates.

Get started straight away

It can feel a little awkward at the start, so the best cure is to get stuck in. Pick the language and the first speaker and start. If you don’t want to speak first then fire a question at them. They will then respond and get the conversation going. It can feel a little scary but diving in head first is the best way to get the conversation off the starting blocks.

Time is precious and if you only have 30 minutes to speak your target language, you don’t want to waste it!

Question, Answer, Question.

A conversation is always two ways. So, make sure you are doing your part to encourage that. When your partner asks you a question, answer it and then return with another question. That way you are both getting a chance to speak and to listen. Conversation is as much about listening as speaking.

The simplest approach for this is adding “and you?” or “What do you think?” at the end of any answer. That way you don’t have to think of a new question but it gives them a chance to speak.

Be fair with time

Most language exchanges last for one hour. That means you have 30 minutes in each language. So, stick to that agreement. Once the 30 minute mark arrives, you need to switch. You can say something like “Ok, let’s swap to ‘X’ Language” and then change the language. Simple as that!

When the conversation is flowing it can be easy to lose track of time and get carried away. While it’s great you are getting on well, if that happens every time, one of you will eventually stop coming because you aren’t learning anything.

TOP TIP: Set a 30 minute alarm on your phone as a reminder to swap language when it goes off.. This works every time for me! 

Make notes or record

Even if your partner doesn’t correct you, there will be a lot you can learn from the conversation. But, when you are busy speaking and trying to understand everything, you can miss stuff. So,  a good idea to take some notes or to record it (obviously get consent from your partner beforehand!). That way you can go through it later and find areas to practice or improve.

Recording can be a good option if you write slowly and it starts to interrupt the conversation. Then you can listen again later and make the notes you need. If you are having the chat on Skype or Zoom that function is built in, but at a coffee shop the voice recorder on your phone will work fine. 

Dress nice

This one isn’t necessary but, in my opinion, equally important. When you dress nice, you feel nice and that will make you more relaxed. Alternatively, if you are sitting worrying about your hair, or the fact your shirt isn’t ironed, that will distract you. And distractions are what we want to avoid. Don’t waste that precious mental energy on your hairstyle when you need it for the conversation.

When I say dress nice, I don’t mean a top hat and tails, but something you feel comfortable in and you like. 

What to do when language first dates wrong

From my experience, language exchanges are an amazing thing and can massively improve your language learning. That being said, they aren’t perfect. So what can you do?

If they aren’t there for the language…

Unfortunately, not everyone goes to a language exchange with the right intentions. Some apps and websites are used by people for dating instead of language learning. I often hear from my female students and friends, that they regularly get messages from people who clearly have other things on their minds.

In that situation, I would politely tell them you are there to learn a language and if they aren’t interested then you can leave. Don’t feel obliged to stay.

That’s also why I recommend somewhere public like a coffee shop or library for an exchange rather than going to someone’s house. At least in a coffee shop you can leave when you like and there are other people for support, should you need it

If they speak too fast…

Ah yes… that age old problem! Luckily, there is an easy solution. Politely ask them to speak more slowly for you. Sometimes you will have to ask a few times but stick with it. There is no point sitting and pretending you understand when you don’t. That won’t help anyone. Teachers are trained to adjust their speed for different levels to help you understand, but with language partners it can take a little time. If they have never done it before they will need a polite reminder every so often.

If they bring up a touchy subject…

I’m a very open guy and not very easily offended, but that’s not the case for everyone. Sometimes there will be subjects that you (or your partner) don’t feel comfortable discussing. If one of these comes up, change the subject. 

As a general rule of thumb, I tend to avoid politics, relationships, religion and swearing until I know someone better. Unless they bring it up of course! Then, as long as you are happy to discuss it, you can keep going. No problem!

Not everyone is a match or forever

Just like dating, finding the perfect language partner isn’t always easy. You won’t always find your perfect match straight away. That’s why it’s important to keep looking. If you have a partner, but you aren’t happy with the conversation, you have two choices. Work with them to improve it or cut ties and find someone new. Whichever you choose, honesty is always the best policy. so, if you decide to stop talking to them, they can also look for a different partner.

On the other hand, you may find the perfect partner and they disappear off the face of the Earth. Unfortunately, that happens too. People’s lives change. Their goals change and so they might stop learning the language all together. 

So, one thing to remember is that you don’t have to just have one language partner, keep looking you never know who you might meet along your language learning journey! 

I also tend to keep in touch with some of my language partners, even though I’m no longer learning their language, We’ve just become good friends over time and so I want to keep updated with the comings and goings in their lives. 

And there you have it! My top tips for making your language learning first dates a resounding success. 

Are you ready  to get started? I’d love to hear about your language first date experiences, so get in touch in the comments below! 

Until next time!

Having a first language lesson and not an exchange? No problem, I’ve got you covered. Check out my top tips for making your language lessons a success.

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