Since finishing formal study, one thing I’ve been keen to do “in the background”, so to speak, is get little bits of practise in regularly for the languages I have learnt in the past but don’t use or study regularly.
A major player in my in-the-background-bringing-back-lost-language activity lately has been language exchange apps, specifically Tandem and HelloTalk.
However, I’ve noticed it’s not always that engaging. Today, I want to share some ideas to guarantee a response with language exchange.
My issue isn’t with the apps. Both are well-designed, fun, and have dedicated teams behind the scenes working hard to constantly improve the user experience.
My issue is with the inevitably high number of requests that simply say “Hi” or “Hello” or “Hey. My name is Bob.”
We can do better than that! It’s language exchange not small talk exchange!
If you’re cringing right now thinking, “Oh dang it. That’s me. I’ve totally done that.” then don’t worry.
Hands up. I have too. I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of this language exchange crime.
But now is the time to say ‘never again’.
Tandem does a really good job of giving users interesting ideas to spark up more meaningful conversation. However, today I want to share some more ideas to get some more engaging language exchange chat going.
This is a two-fold process. Firstly, your profile has to give people something to work with. Secondly, your first messages have to say more than “hi”.
Let’s start with some tips to improve your language exchange profile to get people talking to you.
Some of these tips are only relevant on certain platforms so adapt as you need for your language exchange app of choice.
Perfecting your language exchange profile
Only a line about languages
Remember that your profile will automatically display which languages you speak and don’t speak. Don’t waste your profile text on repeating yourself. Give potential language exchange partners something to work with.
Here are some ideas to get you started…
Ron at Language Surfer wrote a great post a while back giving you some really awesome ideas for language exchange topics. You can adapt these for profile info too.
When you’re putting this info into your profile, why not add a question to the end of each line inviting possible future language exchange buddies to tell you their favourite sport or best holiday ever?
For example, rather than just:
I’m Timmy and I like horse riding.
Give potential language partners something to reply to with something like this:
I’m Timmy and i like horse riding. Do you? What’s your favourite sport?
Happy language partners!
rotate your languages
If you’re learning multiple languages, change your ‘language learning’ list from time to time to avoid a flood of requests in one language and to give you fresh new pals to practise different languages with.
This doesn’t have to involve a complete profile makeover if you follow the first couple of tips and make your profile text more engaging than just a repeat list of the languages you’re learning.
If it’s there! Use it!
This is a feature that HelloTalk offers and who knows, maybe it will roll out onto other platforms in the future.
Hearing someone’s voice can be more valuable that just written words. You can even make it multilingual!
It’ll also make your profile stand out. I’ve had many first messages from people that mention they have listened to my audio intro and that’s what made them get in touch.
The first message
Now your profile is going to be drawing in more requests than you can shake a stick at, let’s consider some ways to amp up those first messages.
The first thing to do to show that you actually have an interest in someone is to send them something personalised. The easiest way? Audio.
With both HelloTalk and Tandem, you can (currently) only send audio recorded within the app at the time of sending, which means that the recipient will know you’ve devoted some actual time to sending them that message rather than just blindly copying and pasting the same message to 50 speakers of your language as some might do with text.
Read their profile
Of course, if the idea of recording an audio message leaves you petrified, text is still ok. Just not copied and pasted text. And most certainly not a simple “hi”. A “hi” gives me nothing to work with.
What do I say back?
Maybe we go to the next level and say “how are you?”. The conversation petters out faster than you can say the word “conversation”.
To send a meaningful first message, spend some time reading the person’s profile.
What languages do you have in common? Have you been to the country where they live? Do you share interests?
Use this info to write your first message.
Before we go any further here: language exchange is not dating. Just FYI.
So when I say compliment them, I don’t mean a message like this…
hey good looking. your hair looks amazing in your profile pic.
Heck no. But if their profile photo is something more abstract like a cartoon character, a photo of an amazing place, or their pet, then use it. Instead your first comment could be something like this…
I love your profile photo! Where was it taken?
remember it’s an exchange
Any message that comes to my inbox on these apps and says something like…
hi. i’m learning english. can you help me?
That may sound harsh and I’d love to help, I’m sure, but the keyword here is exchange. It’s a two-way street. Don’t assume someone will help you without also offering to help them with the languages they’re learning.
Hi. I’m learning English and I see you’re learning Spanish. I’d love to chat and help each other.
Better. But we can still be more specific. Of course you’re looking to chat – it’s a language exchange app! Why are you two a good fit over all of the other Spanish and English speakers on the app?
Hi. I’m learning English and I see you’re learning Spanish, my native language. I’d love to chat and help each other. I’m looking to find someone who’s not afraid to correct my mistakes! On your profile it says you like cats. I actually have 3! Do you have any? Hope to speak soon!
So much better, don’t you think?
Language exchange isn’t always easy. It can take some time before you find someone that’s a perfect match.
I’ve put together a worksheet to help you to create your perfect language exchange profile text.
It’s a digital worksheet so you can open it directly on your computer, tablet, phone, dog (maybe…) and type straight away. No printing!
Let me know what you think of this format. I like it!
What do you do to guarantee a response with language exchange? Share your tips in the comments!