Looking for and messaging potential partners
Looking for potential partners may seem very intuitive, and it is (surprise!), but italki offers some filtering criteria that will make your search less time consuming and thus more productive:
- Check the “native speaker” box: You may luck out and find a partner who is not a native but who masters your target language at a native level, and can therefore offer you insights into your target language that most natives have no idea about, this is extremely unlikely as most non-natives don’t speak their target languages well enough for them to teach them, so you’re better off focusing on what will offer a lower but safer return on your time: a native speaker.
- Gender: I’ve noticed that guys are usually not at all very interested in exchanging with another guy. However, if it’s a girl who’s on the other side of the screen, they reply back like their life would be over if they didn’t.
If you are a woman (or can fake a flawless girly voice on skype, not judging) you can take advantage of this if you don’t feel bad about it. And in any case, because of how creepy some guys are, most girls prefer to have language exchanges with girls only.
In my experience, messaging guys if you are one, is mostly a waste of time, I still do it however, because one can never know, and I always use a pre-written generic message (I’ll teach you how to write one that reads nothing like generic in a little bit) so it doesn’t really take much of my time.
- From: This option allows you to filter people based on their location.
If the natives who speak your target language live in another continent, agreeing on when to meet may prove difficult. Again, if you speak a sought-after language, people will go the extra mile to meet with you when you are available.
For the rest of us, we can try looking for expats living in our country or in our continent. Having the same local time will make it far easier to find free time to meet and practice.
Real life messages
I sent out 23 messages. I received one from a Brazilian person, however, Portuguese is, unfortunately, a language I’m currently not learning, so I had to turn her down and I also got another from a Spanish person (?).
From those 23 messages I:
• Added 11 people in Skype.
• Spoke on Skype with 6 of them.
• I currently talk to 2 of them on a weekly basis (both of them are women, men would either add me in Skype or give me their Skype names so I could add them myself but they were never available to actually meet and practice).
Let’s put these numbers in context. For some of you reading, these numbers may be awful, and honestly, I wish I could get a language exchange friend from every message I send out, but this is obviously not possible. Considering how many people speak Spanish as their native language, I’d say these numbers are pretty good. If your native language is not in high demand, then anything that falls into the range of 1 language friend every 20 messages sent or even 1 friend every 30 messages is good.
Your success rate will depend to a great extent on what language you speak and what language you are learning. In my case, I was looking for Japanese speakers who were learning Spanish.
Demographically speaking, there are 3.6 native Spanish speakers for every Japanese native speaker (472 million native Spanish speakers and 130 million native Japanese speakers).
Obviously, not all 130 million Japanese are learning Spanish just like not all 472 million native Spanish-speaking people are learning Japanese, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s say that the proportionality relative to Japanese speakers learning Spanish and Spanish speakers learning Japanese is 1 to 3.6. This means Japanese can be very picky. However, if I spoke German as my native language, the tables would be turned as there are “only” 89 million German native speakers, in this case, German people can be pickier.
The following are 4 (out of the 23) conversations I had on italki:
- Hi, mysterious person #1!
You are Japanese but grew in “mysterious place”? wow so cool
Why do you want to learn Spanish?
- Hi, Viktor! Yes, because “mysterious reason”.
Well, I love the language, I like its rhythm, and I like the cultures of the Hispanic countries.
How about you? Where are you from? Are you learning Japanese?
- I think you speak it (the Spanish language) fairly well already, congratulations, for how long have you been learning it?
I’m from Chile! 🙂
I’m trying to learn Japanese, but it’s pretty hard, I joined italki hoping to find a Japanese pal to exchange languages with, you interested? 🙂
- Haha, thanks but I still have a long way to go. I’ve been studying it for 2 years but I still don’t speak it very well.
Okay, haha, then have you started with the basic alphabet or not yet? And of course, I’d love to do a language exchange with you. Would you like to talk through Skype or something or just do messages?
- Man, I’ve been trying to learn Japanese for a long time but don’t speak any of it.
I learned hiragana, katakana, and all of that, but learning the kanji has taken me a long time.
Skype would be great, mysterious person #1, you just read my mind there, add me “mysterious Skype name” 🙂
I’m free now if you are too, or we can leave it for some other time when we’re both free
- Haha, but Japanese is far far different from Spanish. For me, Spanish is a bit easier because the English alphabet and the Spanish one are the same haha
Great! So we don’t need to do hiragana, right? Perfect
Just added you! But actually it’s 5am in “mysterious place” right now and I have to go to sleep.
So I’ll let you know when I’m free and you let me know too!! 🙂
In her profile, mysterious person #1, described her hobbies and that she “would love to have a language partner to practice with”, however, I always prefer to start a small conversation first before giving them my Skype name or asking for theirs.
I talked to mysterious person #1 for a little while, then the magic faded away.
I almost never give the other person my Skype name right away, which takes me to mysterious person #2.
Was I too straightforward? Maybe. But considering mysterious person #2’s profile, I definitely didn’t think so at the time:
In eight lines of text, this person mentions three times how she/he “want to help you learn”.
They also point out how she/he’d be “glad” about becoming language partners with (I’m guessing) anybody who can help them with either their English or Spanish.
If I were to go back in time and message them again, I would definitely not suggest them to add me in Skype right away. However, the fact that they didn’t reply to my message or add me in Skype, in my opinion, is not because of my suggesting them to add me in Skype right away but rather because of something else, could be anything, maybe they already had a bunch of language partners and didn’t bother with me, or wasn’t a serious language learner, who knows.
I don’t ask people to add me in Skype right away anymore, that way I know that if they don’t reply back is not because I was too straight forward. I want the reasons for why some of my messages go unreplied to be traced back to something on the other person’s end, that way I know I didn’t do anything “wrong”.
Look at this message of mine that went unreplied, I didn’t ask this person to add me in Skype, I made an open question showing sincere curiosity:
Mysterious person #3 did reply back and even added me in Skype, but never had free time to meet.
Mysterious person #4 is the type of person that every language learner wants to meet. This is the power of persistance, you see, finding good language friends is a matter of having a good profile and messaging as many people as needed in order to find what you are looking for, so it is essentially a numbers game.
Writing good messages
As I stated previously, if you speak a sought after language, most (if not all) of your language friends will come from them messaging you (not the other way around), but what if you scroll through the list of people who speak your target language and want to learn your native language on italki and you happen to find someone who makes you think “wow, this person might really make a great language friend”? Will you wait for them to message you or will you message them yourself? I don’t like leaving things to fate so, if that were me, I would take the time to write a good message.
And for those of us whose language is not very sought-after, writing good messages is a must. I signed up for italki on July 14 2016, I’m writing this on January 2017 (though it will get published way later), in almost five months of being on italki, I didn’t have one single person message me (except a Brazilian woman, but I’m not even learning Portuguese and a Spanish guy, and I already speak Spanish), so if I hadn’t taken the initiative to message all the people that I did, I would have ended empty handed, this guide wouldn’t exist, and the existence of the universe itself would be meaningless.
But how do you write good and thoughtful messages without losing both your patience and your mind?
What I did was dividing my messages in two parts, the first part, I would notice something about the profile of the people I wanted to message, it could be anything: their name or where they live or anything at all, and then I would comment on it.
For the second part, I would copy and paste the exact same for almost every person that I messaged because it applies to every single Japanese person learning Spanish: “Anyway, may I ask why you are interested in learning Spanish? I find it so amusing that a Japanese person wants to learn such a far-off language like Spanish, but you probably think the same thing about us Spanish speakers looking to learn Japanese! Haha”
I also recommend writing the message partly in their target language and partly in your target language. If they don’t specify their competence in their target language, you should probably write your messages in English or another bridge language. I recommend against writing messages entirely in your target language because it looks very freeloader-like, unless they specifically ask you to do so by stating something like “I don’t speak any [insert their target language here] so please only talk to me in [insert their native language here]” in their profiles. I will usually just say “hola” instead of “hi”, and that’s it.
Sometimes, I would only comment on something in their profile and not add the second part because simply commenting on that one thing would start a conversation if they were interested in starting a conversation with me in the first place, but most of the time I would add that second part so I could quickly move towards exchanging Skype names so we could meet over Skype.
Notice how I don’t just say, “wow, you live in Tokyo, so cool!” while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it gives the other person little to follow up with, most people won’t say “yeah it is”, because it’s somewhat awkward, being on the internet, it’s easy to just not reply, so try to put a light topic on the table, so the other person can pick it up and follow up with the conversation. This doesn’t guarantee a reply however, as you can see from the screenshot above.
While partly copy-pasting the same message might seem somewhat insincere, the fact of the matter is, they don’t know us nor do we know them, so what more thoughtful can a message (technically a cold message) to an unknown person be?
What you are doing here is offering yourself for a language exchange and what your message does is give your potential partner reasons to filter you in or out. You have to try your best not to be filtered out, keep in mind that we will be sending these messages to people we’ve hand-picked by applying a good filtering system, not just to anyone and everyone, that is not efficient.
Feel free to take my messages as inspiration for yours, but don’t copy them! Although it might be tempting to just copy them, italki (or any language exchange website for that matter) is not a big place, if everyone starts copying my messages, we’re bound to sooner or later receive the same messages we’ve been sending out ourselves! And then it will very insincere. Picture a pretty girl, do you think that a pretty girl thinks all the guys who call her “gorgeous”, “stunning” or anything of the like are being sincere? Of course not, it stopped feeling sincere years ago because literally every guy does it, don’t be that guy.
Okay, in the next part of the guide, you’ll learn how to make the most out of your language exchanges, i.e. how to maximize your learning during your exchanges.
For now, let’s have a quick look over what you’ve already learned so far in a nustshell:
In order to find good language exchange friends you need to:
- have a good profile.
- message as many people as possible while following an efficient filtering system. Remember that there will always be factors that are beyond your control as to why some people will simply not reply to your messages, maybe they don’t like that you part your hair to the side, who knows, don’t take it personal and keep messaging more people.
- have small talk and move towards exchanging skype names, once you do, try to schedule a date on which you can meet that is not too far off (ideally less than a week). The longer it takes for you to exchange over skype, the less likely you ever will.