According to a famous French proverb, C’est en forgeant que l’on devient forgeron (It’s by forging that one becomes a blacksmith). It’s also by speaking French that one becomes a better French speaker.
The problem is that you may not know anyone you can speak French with.
Luckily, there are lots of opportunities for French speaking practice online and in real life. Let’s look at some of them.
We’ll especially focus on online conversation exchange opportunities, since let’s face it, right now isn’t exactly the best time to get together in close quarters with strangers.
The best French conversation practice apps and websites
italki is mainly an online tutoring site, but there is also a language exchange platform, where members can post that they can help or talk for free in a particular language.
Many of French Together users have written to tell us that they like italki, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
Tandem is a trendy and visually appealing language exchange app. You can use many of its features for free, although there are some paid options. Despite its sleek interface, Tandem seems to go a lot deeper than appearances. It’s got great reviews from language learners around the world and the majority of its members seem to be serious and motivated. You can read this in-depth review of Tandem for more details.
One of the most popular language learning apps, HelloTalk is free. It offers advanced messaging features that help you easily correct your language partner’s messages during chats. You can also talk via audio and video. You can read this review of HelloTalk to find out more.
Polyglot Club is one of French Together founder Benjamin’s favorite language exchange sites. It’s also a sort of hybrid, featuring everything from online chat and video functions, to (paid) online tutoring, to organized events and French conversation groups around the world.
….Of course, that last part isn’t actually a feature right now…. But once things get better, it’s something to look forward to.
Founded in France but now international, the site has a friendly feel to it, and when Benjamin attended one of their events in Paris a few years ago, he found that to carry over to real life. It’s a pressure-free environment where everyone wants to learn.
In addition to French learning content (some of which is free), popular this popular site features an interactive online platform where native speakers can correct your work as well as participate in language exchange.
In addition to the typical language exchange website features, Easy Language Exchange also boasts a “Working Together” forum, where users can post questions about translation issues, school help, etc. The site has a real sense of community to it, so it could be a good place to start if you’re feeling a little intimidated by the idea of talking to someone you don’t know.
Confession : I am not the most tech-savvy person in the world. I often feel comforted by sites that keep things simple. If you’re the same, Conversation Exchange could be the perfect language exchange website for you.
Not only does the site let you meet online language conversation partners; if you’re also looking for a way to brush up on your French letter or email writing, there’s also a section where you can look for a French pen pal.
Another site where you can find pen pals as well as conversation partners is Interpals. French Together founder Benjamin used this very site when he started learning languages. He ended up meeting and making friends with several conversation partners. He later visited them when he was traveling abroad.
If none of these language exchange websites or apps seem like the perfect one for you, don’t give up! As I wrote before, there are so many language exchange sites out there. You can look for more via a simple online search for something like “language exchange website” or “free language exchange website”.
How to find a French conversation partner near you
Some of you may already be able to meet new people, mask-free. But for most of us, a lot of this section will be more useful when it’s finally okay to meet up in person, without masks, for a French conversation group.
That said, this part of the article is still worth looking into. Some platforms and websites that normally involve in-person meet-ups have adapted to our strange times, pivoting to virtual events and online chats in the meantime.
Here’s how to find French conversation practice opportunities near you (or online for now and then in-person when that’s finally okay):
Meetup is a website that lets you create or join a local group (or multiple groups) based on your interests. The site is free to use, although there’s a monthly fee if you create a group.
You can use this website to find all kind of events, from conversation practice to real French courses and guided tours of a city.
Although many on-site events are currently cancelled in most places, there are some exceptions. And some groups have started organizing online meetups, so you may start talking to a French conversation partner or group online for now, and then meet in person when things (hopefully) get back to normal.
2. Posting ads on real-life or online community message boards
Some places, like universities and libraries, for instance, may allow you to post a flyer asking for a French conversation partner. Of course, always be safe when it comes to what information you include in your ad. You could give a short description of yourself, and what kind of conversation partner you’re looking for, but don’t include your name.
3. Facebook and other social networks
Social networks: They’re not just for sharing selfies and your favorite memes! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that….) They can also be an awesome way to connect with people and learn French.
You could, for example, type “[Your city] French meetup”, “English French exchange [your city]” or “French conversation practice [your city]” into your favorite search engine or on Facebook to get the list of all the French speaking events in your city.
Lots of French learners say that French learning Facebook groups are great ways to find likeminded people to do a conversation exchange with.
Couchsurfing definitely seems like a “you have to be there” kind of thing, but not so! In addition to offering opportunities for people to stay at each other’s homes and discover the local culture, the Couchsurfing site has hangouts and events – free conversation groups or online chats for members. Right now, these are virtual-only, but one day there will be IRL ones again, too….
The one downside is that the site is no longer free, due to the hit it’s taken from the pandemic. Still, the small monthly fee could be worth it, especially if couchsurfing is your ideal way to travel (when we’re all able to travel again).
This entry may look familiar if you read the other section of this article. But it’s worth mentioning again, because Polyglot Club’s primary claim to fame is in-person meetup language exchange events.
When things get back to normal (hopefully very soon….), check the site for meetups in your area or to somewhere you’re traveling to. For instance, if you come to France, see if there’s a Polyglot Club event planned near where you’re staying. These events are excellent opportunities for practicing your French.
6. Language immersion programs and homestays
A number of organizations offer immersion programs and opportunities to live with a French family for a while. I used to think this was just something for students (including myself: I did a homestay when I was in middle school). But over the years, I’ve met several adults who’ve also done immersion programs, so whatever age you are, this is an excellent option. Being immersed in French is an amazing way to kickstart your language abilities – not to mention your confidence. And you may end up making lifelong friends in the process.
There are a lot of immersion program and homestay options, with variations like different trip durations, budgets, and extras, so this option does mean doing a little research. If you’re interested in participating in a program like this, type “French language immersion” or “French homestay” into a search engine to find which option works best for you. Be sure to also look at Trustpilot and other independent review sites to be sure a program isn’t a scam.
One option that might fit your needs is the Alliance Française’s homestay programs, which it offers in many French cities. Do an online search for “Alliance Française homestay” to get started.
If none of these choices seem good, you’re bound to discover other options by doing an online search for “find french conversation partners.” Be careful, of course, that these sites don’t overcharge you, ask for personal information, and generally seem legit. If one of them seems suspicious, just move on.
Conversation practice safety tips
Participating in a language exchange is a great way to improve your French. Most people you meet are probably fellow language learners and not a threat. But you never know.
So, before you get right to it, here are a few things to do in order to practice French safely.
1. Keep things separate.
Some language exchange participants advise creating a separate email account and even using a fake name when communicating with online language exchange partners. This could prevent everything from harassment, to hacking, to identity theft.
2. Go off the grid.
Before you make contact, be sure that any location tracking apps you might have on, are turned off.
3. Think about what’s around you.
Before you turn on your camera for an online chat, make sure there are no important documents, objects of value, or specific things that might identify you. Even if, say, a pile of bills are lying on a table in the background, you never know if the person talking to you can zoom in and get some information. That might be unlikely, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.
When you do a video chat, choose a neutral background like a blank wall, or something that shows a little personality but nothing personalized; for instance, a wall with some posters or paintings you like on it, or a bookshelf (with no personal photos, diplomas on the shelves). Some video chat programs even let you choose a fake background, which is another safe (and fun!) option to consider.
4. Don’t give out your personal information.
Depending on the site and circumstances (for example, if you and your French pen pal decide to go old school and send each other actual letters by mail), you probably won’t have to give a language exchange partner information like your last name, address, or phone number . Be careful about giving out other details early on, like your birthday, where you live, the name of your workplace, etc.
5. Always meet in a public place.
When we finally can meet up with each other, be sure you do it in a public place, with other people around.
6. Never send someone money.
This may sound like a no-brainer…but what if you make a real connection with the person you meet and they really seem to be in need? Every circumstance is different, of course, but at least wait until you know them very well before you even consider doing this.
For instance, I used to belong to a blogging site where I became very close with several other members. At one point, one of them got very sick and needed help with medical care. We had all known each other for years, had exchanged personal messages, sent details about our lives, etc. So I felt comfortable donating to the crowd funding site he set up, and it helped that our other blogging friends felt comfortable, too.
But if it had been someone I had recently met, I would have to think long and hard about sending money to a stranger. As one of my favorite guilty pleasure shows, Catfish, proves again and again, there are so many people out there who seem honest but are actually living a lie and scamming people along the way!
7. Don’t get caught in a bad romance.
Most language exchange sites and apps seem to be filled with mostly serious people who want to practice a foreign language. But there are some people who are there for other reasons, and some apps have even gotten a reputation for this.
For example, in my research, the popular language exchange app Speaky was frequently called out for its numerous participants who seem to be there to find romance (or something else…) instead. That might sound intriguing – and let’s face it, sometimes a little flirting can be a great way to up your language game. But beware: At least one of the reviews mentioned that this online romancing is actually scamming, so again, be careful.
This list offers additional safety tips for communicating online, and this Duolingo thread has even more, very specific advice for being safe with a French conversation partner.
I strongly advise reading both.
Who is the perfect French conversation partner?
In theory, anyone fluent in French would do. But speaking in a language you learn isn’t easy, and it’s important to find someone who really motivates you. Ideally the perfect French conversation partner would be someone who:
- is a native speaker, especially of the kind of French you want to learn most (French from France, Quebecois, French from Cameroon, etc.).
- seems interesting. Talking to someone in a language you are learning isn’t easy, so you need to find someone you will look forward to talking to. Of course that person is different for everyone and depends on your interests.
Can your French conversation partner be a non-native speaker?
If you really enjoy talking to someone who is not a native French speaker, but still speaks French very well, keep doing it.
You can still learn a lot from non-native speakers, and as you practice together, you may notice questions or challenges that come up and explore them together.
That was certainly the case for me. Whenever a French-speaking American friend of mine and I used to get together to practice our French, if we noticed a word we didn’t know or a grammar structure we had problems with, we’d take out our phones and look it up – and usually end up learning a lasting lesson.
For his part, native Francophone Benjamin has had valuable experiences learning with non-native speakers of English. For instance, he was so fascinated by a Korean friend’s culture that he was motivated to speak English with her in order to learn more about her life.
So, learning with a non-native speaker can be a great thing. The only caveat is that you’re not getting to really practice French as it’s spoken by a native Francophone, both in terms of vocabulary choice and pronunciation. So I would encourage you to increase how many French TV shows, movies, radio programs, and podcasts you listen to , to compensate for this.
It may also be good to look into French pronunciation checking tools. There are a number of apps that do this, and an online search will give you several results. Before you download one, check reviews to see if they really are helpful.
And there’s also no harm in continuing to look for a native-speaking French conversation partner in addition to your non-native one.
I hope this list will help you find the perfect French conversation partner. If you have one already, how did you meet them? Feel free to share in the comments!