Making Friends to Help You Learn Your Target Language

As I mentioned in my last post on making the best of your study abroad trip, one of the best ways to improve in your target language is to make a friend or two who speaks the language natively. These friends will allow you to practice the language while having a good time. If you are lucky, they will introduce you to more people who speak the language natively and soon you will have a circle of friends who are willing to help you out in your target language.

Often times for people who have just moved or are doing a study abroad program in a country where their target language is spoken, they find it difficult to make contacts with the native population. This is understandable for anyone moving to a new area. However, there are a few advantages you have in gaining friends and new contacts. But, first let’s talk about the types of people you will find.

Similar to my post on how to become fluent through a boyfriend or girlfriend, there are a few types of friends you will encounter in your new country.

The first type is the kind who is interested in you for improving their own English. These types are usually pretty easy to befriend since they are gaining a lot by speaking to you in English. If you are really having trouble making friends in your new country, it may help to make a friend with one or two of this type of person since it may lead to them introducing you to other friends. The problem with this type is that they will want to speak English to you for part or all of the time and since you are trying to learn their target language, this obviously does not help you.

The second type of person is the person who has studied English to some degree in the past but either doesn’t feel comfortable speaking it or isn’t really interested in speaking English. This type is better than the first type since they will communicate with you in your target language and will be understanding of your mistakes. They are more likely to take things slowly with you in order to help you understand. They will also be somewhat knowledgeable of differences between your culture and their own.

The third type consists of people who have either never studied English or failed miserably at it in school and have absolutely no interest in learning English. This type is sometimes the hardest to meet and make friends with because they usually have little interest in foreigners. On the other hand, you will find a small subset that is interested in meeting foreigners as long as you have an interesting personality. In any case, you can expect that this type will speak to you only in your target language and will speak to you in it at full blast; that is, they will speak the language to you as if you understood it like a native.

So, which type is the best type to try and meet? It depends on your skill level in the language. In my opinion, the third type can be the most interesting since they will never hold back when speaking to you in the language. However, speaking to this type requires that you know the language extremely well. The second type is a softer version which is good for intermediates since they will often speak slowly for you or help you out with hard bits of vocabulary or grammar. The first type is probably only good for you if you know absolutely nothing in your target language or you are really desperate for friends.

Again, I should add that there are no hard, set types… it is possible to find third type people who will sit down with you and slowly explain things in their language or first type people who will set up times to speak only in the target language to help you out. However, the three categories I’ve talked about seem to be the most common types you will run across.

So, now that you know a little about the types of people you will meet, how do we go about meeting them? There are a few ways… probably the most direct way is to get out and try to join any kind of activity you can find. By doing some sort of activity, you will be exposed to others and will soon get to know them better. Another way is to simply be outside a lot. Especially if it is obvious that you are a foreigner, you will find that people will come up to you and try to speak to you. Often you will find a lot of type 1s who will try to come up and practice their English with you. It is very easy to make friends with these types since they are usually very interested in English and people from English-speaking countries.

Another great way to find people is to use the internet sites. There are many sites out there that you can search for that allow you to put up a profile or search other people’s profiles to make friends. You simply create a profile and wait for people to contact you  or you can go out and contact others. After the initial contact, you can talk online for a while to see if this person is actually someone you want to meet and then you can go and meet them. This is a good way to meet people especially if you are shy about meeting people in person at first.

A good way to find these sites is to search Google for the country or target language and then “penpal”. Although most of these sites will show people who are looking for penpals, many of the people on such sites would be delighted to meet a foreigner in their own country. To give you an example for Japanese, japan-guide is a great way to make Japanese friends.

Thanks for reading! Check out the rest of my site for more useful tips and techniques.

– Robbie

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  1. Jessica Sztaimberg

    Hi there!

    Making friends is a GREAT way to learn the language…in all three examples you give, because you will be practicing, and that is what you really need. Intercambios are a great help, if you want to practice your target language, while helping someone else learn their target language. There are lots of internet sites which you can sign up for an intercambio, or attend an event to meet one. I found that practicing as much as I could, in class, on the street, out at night, and while I was shopping, helped me greatly. I did make a few friends (friends of my roomates, friends I met while walking around, and also classmate’s boyfriends/ girlfriends who were locals) in Spain who also practiced with me whenever I wanted. This was great because they made me feel comfortable, and only spoke to me in Spanish.

    There are many types of people who will help you with your conversation skills- just remember to always be willing to try.

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