If you want to speak fluent Polish and you’re not currently chatting with natives, you need to set up a language exchange immediately.
Although now I solely take paid lessons (and recommend that you do the same for reasons I explain in my other post), I still believe that language exchanges are an extremely valuable way of improving your spoken Polish.
If you can’t afford to pay a tutor to chat with you or are just looking for a way to increase the amount of hours of Polish speaking practice that you get without racking up the costs, language exchanges are a great way to get the practice that you need.
Want Polish lessons for free? Try language exchanges
Unless you have a really generous Polish native nearby, you only have two options when trying to find someone to practise your spoken Polish with.
- Pay someone to talk to you solely in Polish.
- Trade conversation in a language you can already speak for conversation practice in Polish
However, if you’re not looking to invest any money into your Polish, don’t worry – there are millions of language learners on the site that you can learn Polish with via language exchanges.
In fact, I never actually did any paid Polish language lessons on italki until two years after I’d started learning as I (incorrectly) assumed that I couldn’t afford them. To be honest, I didn’t even bother looking, so was pleasantly surprised when I did!
Instead of paying for lessons, I did language exchanges – a completely free alternative.
Polish language lessons are cheapJust to clarify, Polish language lessons are extremely affordable. Some teachers are available for less than $10 an hour. That’s less than £10! In hindsight, if I’d have spent a bit of money when I was getting started, even if only occasionally, I’d have improved much quicker. Please don’t make the same mistake that I did!
There are benefits to either the paid route or the free route, I just happened to choose the one that didn’t cost me money. We spoke English for 30 minutes and then we spoke Polish for 30 minutes. Sometimes it was the other way around. No payment necessary, we just had to show up on time.
Alternatively, I could have just paid someone to talk to me in Polish for a whole hour and progressed a lot quicker.
This is what I do now and what I recommend to you, even if you only buy a lesson occasionally when you can afford one.
There are definitely pros and cons to having free language exchanges as opposed to paid Polish language lessons. Since this post is largely about the positives and how to do language exchanges effectively, below are a couple of the downsides to balance everything out.
The major con for me was that every minute I spent speaking English was time I could have spent learning Polish.
Another disadvantage I found is that not everyone appreciates something which is for free. Some conversation partners just didn’t show up. Some have disappeared without leaving a trace. A paid tutor isn’t going to do that!
It’s important to note that both routes will get you there, but paying will almost certainly get you speaking fluent Polish quicker.
I say, with the benefit of hindsight, go the paid route and do as many or as little lessons as you can afford. However, it’s ultimately your choice and if you’re tight on money or not in a particular rush to learn Polish, language exchanges will be good enough to get the job done.
So that said, what are some of the good bits about doing language exchanges?
You can do language exchanges from anywhere (with Internet)
You can do a language exchange from anywhere that you have internet. I really mean anywhere.
One of my partners has Skyped me from Nottingham, Lisbon, Barcelona, Warsaw and Minehead. We wrote down the time that we were going to talk in our respective time zones and he was always there on time, no matter where he was in the world.
Personally, I’ve done them whilst walking home from work, I’ve done a few whilst lying on the sofa…I even did one from bed.
You really can do them from anywhere. The possibilities are endless.
(Just don’t do one while you’re on the toilet.)
How to get started with language exchanges
You can find a partner on any language exchange site, but the only one that I can personally recommend is italki. (That’s my referral link, so if you sign up with it and take any Polish language lessons, italki will give us both some italki credits that we can spend on even more lessons. Win win!)
There are more than 3 million users on the site, so you’re sure to find a few Poles who are willing to exchange your English for their Polish.
(A few people message me every week, so if you really can’t find someone, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.)
You set the rules of your language exchange: The duration, the language, the date, the time, the topic of the conversation and even how often you meet is all decided by you.
Since your converations are usually online via Skype, you can do them from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.
After a few language exchanges where you flip flop between English and Polish, it won’t feel weird speaking either language and you’ll feel less inclined to switch.
I now prefer paying tutors instead of splitting my time between practising Polish and teaching English. One of my language exchange partners once asked me what the difference was between the first and second conditional in English. I had to ask her to tell me what they were!
A few tips for successful language exchanges
I’ve done hundred of language exchanges in order to improve my Polish. Here are my top tips to ensure that your language exchanges are equally as successful:
- Write the time and date of your next session in your Skype conversation in both of your time zones. It’s important that you both know the right time to show up to avoid any confusion, so once you’ve established the correct date and time, write it into your calendar and set a reminder on your phone.
- Establish which language you’d like to start in. Bear in mind that it’s much easier to organise your next session in the stronger language between the two of you! It’s more likely you’ll both show up at the right time too.
- If you find you’re not enjoying your language exchanges with your partner, simply thank them for helping you and politely explain that you won’t be able to do any more exchanges with them as you’re considering other options to help you improve your Polish.
In general, the first three languages are always awkward, so if possible, chat to your partner for at least three sessions before deciding to give them a boot.
Also, never judge a book by its cover: The best language partner I ever had was a lady almost 40 years older than me who loved Zumba, green smoothies and going to Turkey on group holidays. We had nothing in common and yet got on like a house on fire. She even sent flowers to my wedding!
How to do a language exchange free
Just to clarify, unless something terrible has happened, you shouldn’t have to pay people to do a language exchange with them.
All of the language exchanges that I’ve done have been completely free. The only cost to me was my time.
Really, in order to set up a free language exchange, the only thing you need is a willing native speaker to practise with who wants to learn a language which you already speak.
While you can sometimes find natives in your area to practise with and may well know a few yourself, there are much easier and more convenient ways of finding Poles to chat with online.
On top of that, personally I’d advise chatting to a stranger as opposed to someone that you know as the inevitable mistakes that you’ll make will be far less embarrassing and you’re less likely to be ridiculed for the rest of your life.
I’m serious about this one – some of my family members still laugh about mistakes that I made in 2013.
Trust me on this one – practice your Polish with people you don’t know. Making a mistake in front of an understand stranger who also makes mistakes isn’t quite as big a deal as screwing up while talking to your family and friends.
Do yourself a favour – get a language exchange partner so that the pressure is off. You can talk to family and friends in Polish once you’ve practised a bit.
Do a language exchange online
Although you could do a language exchange in person, I’d recommend doing it online via online video.
You might hate having the camera on, but being able to see Polish people’s lips when they speak can be really beneficial when trying to understand what they’re trying to say or how they pronounce certain sounds. Suck it up and have a video call.
Of course, if you have a friendly neighbourhood Pole who would love to chat to you in person, then feel free to take them up on their offer!
Even if you do though, I’d still recommend having at least one person to practise with online (preferably two – one male and one female) as the benefits can be great.
If you’re trying to find a language exchange website, there will be one which you’ll see mentioned time and time again, but largely they all do the same thing, so just pick your favourite and go with that.
Language exchange websites to check out
Before I even get into this section, I have to warn you that I am mega biased toward italki.
I hate to be “that guy” who says “this is my complete and honest opinion” and then gives you about 20 reasons without telling you why it might not be my complete and honest opinion so I’ll just drop some facts here and you can then choose to take anything I say about italki with a pinch of salt or not.
- italki is the most popular language exchange site on the planet
- I’ve personally been on italki since 2015
- I’ve taught English on italki, as in they’ve actually paid me money (MAJOR BIAS ALERT)
- I still take lessons on italki pretty much every week
- If you sign up to italki through my referral link and pay for a lesson, italki will reward both you and I will extra credits for more lessons
There are a ton of reasons why I might be biased towards italki. If I were you, I’d be sceptical of even the fact I’ve said italki so many times in this section.
They’re not paying me to say this, but the only language exchange site I could really truly recommend to you right now is italki. That’s the truth.
Are there other language exchange sites out there? Yes.
Should you use those sites? Maybe not.
italki is the biggest baddest site out there with millions of users. Why wouldn’t you go for the number 1?
My favourite language exchange sites
Given what I’ve just said, I think it’s safe to say that I can list my favourite language exchange websites on one finger, but there are definitely others out there that you might want to consider, even if only to verify whether my heavily biased rant above could have contained an element of truth.
Other sites for language exchange
- Conversation Exchange
- The Mixxer
- Easy Language Exchange
- Language Share
- Tongue Out
If you were hoping me to tell you all of the benefits of these sites, I can’t because I’ve never used them. Honestly, italki was that good that I didn’t bother looking elsewhere.
What I can tell you is that they all have their own different features. Some have a large number of users, you can get written corrections on the site or you can chat with other users.
A few of the sites above will even allow you to filter out non-native speakers or allow you to search for language partners based on things like their country or gender.
You’ll even find interactive forums on some of these too.
But – and you should know what’s coming next – you’ll find all of those features and more on italki.
That’s right: Every. Single. One.
The best language exchange app that I’ve come across
Having waxed lyrical about the benefits of italki, there is a fairly decent language exchange app or two that I’ve used.
First of all, I’ll give an honourable mention to Discord which, although I think is built to allow gamers to chat, does a decent job of allowing Poles and Polish learners to link up.
However, the best app I’ve used for language exchanges is Tandem.
I didn’t use it for very long, but it seemed very easy to use, the people on it were friendly, and some of the features were phenomenally well thought out.
If you’re really hesitant to start speaking to natives just yet, you might appreciate Tandem’s handy chat feature which will allow you to chat with natives via text alone.
Something useful about the app is that people tend to specify whether they’d be up for just chatting via text or audio or video calls or even meeting up in person.
There’s more than one way to have a language exchange and Tandem seems to be able to assist you with setting them all up.
Language exchange chat is your new best friend
As mentioned above, you can just find natives to chat to via text.
While it won’t help you speak any better, if it helps you build your confidence, why not try it out?
There are ways to message other users on most language exchange websites, but if you’re looking for the best way of chatting, I’d suggest signing up to Tandem and giving it a go.
How to pick a language exchange partner
Like other aspects of language exchanges, you make the rules here. You can decide if you want to talk to people your age or a different age; whether you’d like to talk to males or females; or if you’d like to talk to Poles who live in Poland or anywhere else in the world.
Sometimes, I’ve deliberately searched for people who were listed as being in Kraków. I’ve visited their more than any other Polish city, so figured that if things went well, we might meet up in person some day.
With online language exchanges, it makes no difference if the person you’re talking to is in Warsaw or Washington. They’ll still appear on your computer screen in the same way.
If you’re not sure who you’re looking for, just search for any native speaker. If they live near you, that’s even better since you’re more likely to find a time that suits you both.
As for picking the person though, I have an unconventional tip. Whenever I was looking for a new language partner, I always used to scour people’s profiles and target those with the worst English.
- a) I know I’ll genuinely be able to help that person improve
- b) they’ll appreciate my time and actually show up for our call
- c) I won’t feel like such a complete idiot when I say something dumb in Polish because they’re bound to make a gazillion mistakes in English
You may be thinking that I’m a terrible person for doing this. That’s probably true. However, the best way to ensure that you succeed at learning Polish is by not quitting. I simply set myself up in a way to protect my ego so that I didn’t give up.
As long as you find someone who you enjoy talking to, who can help correct your Polish, it doesn’t matter how you pick them or where they live or what the age or gender is.
Remember, if you really can’t find a suitable language partner, there’s always the option of taking paid lessons.
Should I go to a language exchange meetup?
It’s completely up to you. I have no experience in this area because I’ve never done it. In fact, at the time of writing, I’ve never even met any of my online language exchange partners in person, despite attempts to meet up with them when I’ve been in Poland.
Something I will say though is the following: it might be harder to get corrections from a live conversation.
One of the many benefits of having online conversations is that your partner can type out corrections for you to read and/or save for later. They can also share resources with you that can help you learn. That doesn’t happen when you’re talking in person.
Having said all of that, I definitely wouldn’t rule out live in-person language exchanges and in fact would be quite keen to try one out myself!
If you’ve been to a language exchange meetup and have any tips to share, please leave them in a comment below. Thanks!
Language exchange topics – what to talk about
You can really talk about anything, but I’d suggest starting off with some popular topics if you’re just starting out.
Things like talking about yourself, your family, your job or studies, why you’re learning Polish will come in handy time and time again.
If you’re not sure of what to talk about, a phrasebook can be a good source of inspiration. Topics will tend to wander as you chat anyway, but the more specific you can be about one topic, the easier it is to spot vocabulary gaps and plug them.
Inevitably, there will be some vocabulary that is unique to you. My family heritage is from Barbados and Jamaica, so I need to know how to say those countries in Polish. You, on the other hand, don’t.
I have a Master’s degree in mathematics and am a former BBC journalist, so again, there are words related to these things that I need to know and you perhaps don’t.
As long as you’re talking about things that you’re interested in, you will pick up the vocabulary you need.
If you’re really stuck, Stephanie at To Be Fluent has compiled an incredible list of topics for language exchanges for you to check out.
Here’s a glimpse of some of the questions about learning languages – take note of the answers, you might get some great tips!
- What languages do you speak?
- What language(s) do people speak in your country?
- What language(s) are you learning? Why?
- What do you do to learn a language?
- What’s hardest when learning a language?
- What are your best tips for someone learning a language?
- Are there any other languages that you’d like to learn?
- What do you think is the most beautiful language?