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A Polyglot World

5 Hidden Costs of Practicing With a Free Language Exchange Partner

Here is an age-old language learning problem: “I can’t find someone to practice with!”

This problem was valid BEFORE the internet came into our lives.

With so many language exchange sites, you can always find someone to practice your target language.  “I can’t find someone to practice with” is now only an excuse.

I personally have tried many of these language exchange sites (both paid and free), and paying for a tutor from italki beats everything else in terms of the time, energy, and effort that it saves me.

“But, but, but, I don’t want to pay for a tutor!”

This is the first thing that many people think of when they are suggested with the idea of paying for a tutor.  

I know, because I used to be one of them.  So let me tell you what made me change my mind.

Free vs Paid

I started off using free language exchange partners (as many as four different language partners each week) but…

Nothing is truly “free.”

The cost of “free” could come in the form of taking away your valuable time, quality of service, relationship (will explain in #1 below), or distracting you from what you want to achieve (ads, facebook).

So here are the 5 cost that made me switch from free language exchange partner to paying for a tutor on italki.com.

1.   “Friend” does not equal “language partner”

Practicing with existing friends or partner who speaks your target language is usually the first thing that comes to mind for speaking practice.  However, your friends will eventually be tire of practicing with you.  The first few times are generally okay, but it takes time and energy to constantly be someone’s practice partner, especially if you and your friend are used to communicate with a common language. 

To really become fluent, you need to consistently practice speaking the language.  You need repetition.  You need discipline.  This is not so much fun for your friend, especially if you are talking like a baby in their native language.

Let your friend be your friend, and don’t expect them to be your language learning babysitter. :)

2.  It Takes a Lot of Time and Effort to Find a Good Language Exchange Partner

I created a system that works beautifully for how to find a language exchange partner for free.  I even made a step-by-step video on exactly how to do it.

Using my system, I could meet and practice with someone on the same day.  At my best, I had four different language partners on rotation in one week.

Why don’t I just keep doing that?

Because it takes A LOT of hard work to find one free language exchange partner.

Every time I want a new language partner, I need to send out at least 20 requests.  This means I need to search through a list, check a few people’s profile, pick one, and then write them a personal message.  Wait for their reply.  Then I have to do it again for another 20+ people.

This can be different depending on who you are.  If you are a pretty girl, it might be a lot easier.  If your native language is not English, you will probably need to send out even more requests to get a reply.

I estimated that about 20-30% will reply, depending on your introduction message, profile information, profile picture, and language.  From there, you have to message them back, and decide on a time that works for both of you.  This can also waste time since both of you are probably in two different time zones.

You can imagine that this takes a lot of time, energy and effort.

If you want a paid tutor, you’ll also have to try out a few different people before you find one that you really get along with.  However, I guarantee that it will be a lot faster that trying to find a free language partner.  I found that I generally tested three tutors on italki before I found one that I would use on a long-term basis.

Here is an example of how fun it can be when you found an easy going and an awesome italki teacher like Yuri.

3.   “No Shows”

You thought of topics you wanted to talk about in your target language.

You practiced and spoke out loud what you wanted to say in your target language.

You were pumped up and ready to go to show off the stuff that you just learned.

You were staring at your Skype contact list and waiting for your language partner to sign on.

5 minutes passed….10 minutes passed….30 minutes passed….

“No shows” suck.

Stuff happens.  It can even happen with a paid tutor, but I can tell you that it happens a lot more when it is “free”.  

The effort of preparing beforehand is not wasted but that hour you scheduled to practice with a native speaker is.

4. Not As Excited As You

Let’s say you are fired up and ready to practice three hours a week.  Great!  But finding someone who is as fired up as you, and willing to practice with you on a consistent basis, is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Even if you manage to find one of these gems, you may also find that their goals may change.  You may find out that your perfect language exchange partner, who you spent so much time and effort to find, wants to stop practicing with you.  Maybe they got busy, their classes are over, or they’re just tired.  This means you will have to go through the whole process to find someone who is as fired up as you again!  

5.  It Takes Twice as Long

Most language exchanges are 50/50 exchanges for time.  For example, I get to practice for 30 minutes in Japanese, in return for helping my language partner with English for 30 minutes.

I really enjoy getting to know my language partners, and helping them learn English.  

However, this 30 minutes is a time cost.  It may not seem like a lot, but it adds up very quickly.

If I meet with my language partners four times a week, in reality, I only practiced two hours. The other two hours were just chatting in my native language.

That’s 8 hours a month.

I could have used those eight hours to practice more of my target language.  I could have been working out or doing something fun with my family and friends.  If  just pay a small fee ($5 – $15 USD an hour) and not drink one or two cups of coffee, which is totally worth it for a tutor.


You should do what works best for you.  Everyone’s life situation is different.

I am not saying that it is impossible to find a free language partner that works.  I still keep in touch with some of them, and some have became great friends.  

However, if I could do it all over again, I would have started using paid tutors earlier.  For just the cost of two cups of coffee, I could have had a better experience.

– Learn a language with someone who is experienced and knows how to teach.

– Spend 100% of the time focused on my own language learning goals (I paid for the right to!)

– Make faster progress, and reach fluency more quickly

– Save myself time, energy, and effort.

I highly recommend that you give it a try because it just works.

If this sounds good to you, here is what to do next:

1.  Go to italki.com

2.  Choose a professional teacher (teaching) or a community tutor (speaking practice)

3.  Choose your target language

4.  Look at the list of tutors

5. Schedule 3 appointments with 3 different tutors.

– This is so you can find a tutor that fits your learning style.  I promise it will make a world of difference when you are learning with someone you enjoy learning with like Yuri.

6.  Have a blast and start practicing the language you’ve always wanted to speak!

I’ve found that my friends who started using a paid tutor say, “Why didn’t I do it earlier?”  

Don’t wait any longer.  Give italki.com a try and have a blast connecting with a tutor in your target language!

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by italki. I am letting you know because I am committed to being 100% transparent.  I promise that I will only recommend products or services that will genuinely help you become fluent in your target language.

About the author: Lets learn to speak a new language together in the +1 Challenge! Join the party, join the new language learning movement :)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Phil Smith

    Ha ha! “cost of two cups of coffee”! How expensive is your coffee??!! You’d better make your own!

    Thank you for a helpful post!

    • Ally

      Hi phil, where I live it can be $5-6 australian dollars for a coffee!!

  • Tlaxcalli

    No…. just no. You are speaking from a place of class privilege. I am poor. I make $10/hr. If a language tutor costs $10-15/hr, I might as well spend one hour less at work and one hour more practicing the language on my own. Money doesn’t fall off of trees. Now if you make $20+/hr, that makes sense. But the trade off for me of paying for a tutor would equal the same as doing a 50/50 language exchange. And I would rather do that than pick up more boring hours at work…. and if I paid for a tutor and did NOT pick up more hours at work, I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. This is the typical life of a student, most of whom don’t even work a paid job. Now, maybe for me it would be worth it to have a language tutor for a month or two, but pretty soon it’s going to just be annoying for the trade-off. For the most part I’ve succeeded at teaching myself languages for free…. I don’t see why I should need a tutor unless I really had spare cash to spend on it.

    • linds113

      You’re right that he’s speaking from a place of privilege. I personally can’t afford to pay for private tutors either. You have to realize, though, that what he’s talking about is time vs money. For most of us, we learn from reading books or studying. I also love watching movies and listening to music. Those things, though, take a lot of time. I think speaking to native speakers is a very quick way to learning a language, especially if the native speaker is a good teacher and you have consistent meetings several times a week. If you have money and can afford that, you save time. However, those of us who do not have money to spend end up spending time instead of money. It’s a trade-off really

  • james Satve

    hi i’m from italki we make online school where we provide the lesson its free jon us

  • http://www.languageexchange.eu Tandem Buddy

    nice place to find partner for conversation exchange: http://www.languageexchange.eu

  • brainmealcom


    I want to learn a language but it is expensive. I said to myself, I’ll learn the basics first myself, I dont want to pay for a teacher just to learn the basic stuff. Along the way I will find out what I’m having difficulties with and then I will find myself a teacher.

    There are lots of free sites out there, like http://www.easylanguageexchange.com/ or even conversation exchange.

    Learn for free and see how far you go!

  • Доктор

    https://pen4pals.com – Russian-English Language Exchange Community for learning Russian with Russian native speakers..

  • Gordon Bennett

    The benefits of ‘free’ are: it doesn’t cost any money Yippee!

  • david_nianteza


    Let us make the distances are closer & enjoyable by culture and language of Let’s Pal Join now and start to have fun !


  • koreajinx

    haha funny and nice post. dont wanna spend it all on coffee lol

    Good place to find language exchange partners is http://lingopat.com/

  • Asdrúbal Iván Suárez Rivera

    I can totally relate to it. I learned English through language exchange, however, I think I could have made progress quicker with a tutor. Living in Venezuela, iTalki is not an option due to the costs (It’s a very good option for earning money, though) but it’s something I will take into account once I move from here.

  • Ahmet Yılmaz

    I recommend https://www.penpaland.com its a language exchange-based website.
    Android app:http://app.appsgeyser.com/Penpaland

  • Aleksejs Osovitnijs

    dialogoos.org new and simple to use project