How to NOT find a Japanese language partner

japanese-language-partner

This is a request. No, it’s a plea. Consider this the voice of all the Japanese who wish they had a nice Westerner to practice their English with, but can’t. I’ve been talking to a lot of Japanese people about finding English-language partners, and there was quite a consensus… So much so I was able to create a little list. First, let’s see who these people are.

What kinds of people are looking for English-language partners?

Of course, when I say they are looking for English-langauge partners, most of them are willing to help you with your Japanese too. It’s a two-way street when it comes to language partners, right? You help them with their English, they help you with your Japanese, and everyone wins! Now, this isn’t an official poll, nor is it scientific, but these are the things I’ve noticed in regards to the types of people looking to practice their English.

The Overachieving Type: Most of the people who want English language partners are overachievers. I’m not saying this is a bad thing (it’s good, in fact!), but if you’re looking for a language partner you’re really going above and beyond. In the Japanese school system, English is very text-based. You learn how to read and write, and that’s about it. Listening and speaking get swept under the refrigerator, and isn’t so important for testing, which means people don’t really study it. Those that want to practice speaking and listening are doing so because they really want to learn English for the sake of learning English (and not for school). Thus, overachiever.

Girls Girls Girls! Maybe it’s the readership of my other blog, but it seemed like I was talking to a lot more girls than guys. Maybe it’s because girls are smarter? Who knows. It does seem like a lot more girls are looking for language partners than guys though. Something interesting I also found was that most of them tended to be younger (like high school / college), even though there is a huge amount of middle-aged Japanese women trying to learn English as well. I suppose it must be too embarrassing to do one-on-one interaction? The housewife crowd tends to learn more via website resource, television, cell phones, books, and casual learning schools.

How to Not find a Japanese Language Partner

As I was talking to people, I found that there were a lot of things that people didn’t like about language learning partners, and these are all things you can avoid to increase your success rate! Once again, no scientific polling or data happening here, just basing this off feedback and opinion.

creepy-dude

Don’t be hella-creepy: Especially with the girls. So many girls I talked to said that they were afraid of getting a language-learning partner because of all the hella-creepy Western guys trying to hook up with them over Skype, and whatnot. A lot of the Japanese who have never tried to do language-partner studying cited this as a reason why they haven’t tried, as well. This kind of stereotype is pretty prevalent, and it’s up to you to change it! If you’re a girl you’re at an advantage – there are way fewer of you (because you aren’t hella-creepy) and you are in higher demand. Most Japanese that want language-partners prefer a girl over a guy (Japanese guys included… careful, they might be creepers, though it’s not as bad from what I’ve seen).

Don’t push for personal info: The Japanese culture in general is pretty timid about giving out personal info. Mixi is a great example. On there, people very rarely put up their real picture, and it’s hard to find people’s actual names. There’s also the whole 2chan thing, where everyone is anonymous. The worst thing you can do is immediately ask for personal information and scare someone off. This can come off as being creepy, so take things slowly, cowboy (or cowgirl).

Don’t be shy! The Japanese are already known as being a pretty shy group of people. By being nice and outgoing, you’re making it easier on your language partner! Practice speaking your Japanese first, mess up a little, make them feel not so shy about trying to speak English (another notoriously hard thing to get a Japanese person to do). It’s a little extra effort, but if you can make your partner feel good about speaking English (and not embarrassed) you’ll have a much better time. Sometimes you have to pretend to suck to make the other person feel good.

There you have it – totally unofficial, unscientifically based data to help you have more success in your language-partnering endeavors. Best of luck to all of you! If you have any tips or tricks, please post them in the comments! And remember, don’t be a sketchasaurus-rex!

[image 1, image 2]

  • umiko

    lol i actually met my “language” partner after I moved BACK to America from Japan where I was on a year exchange program. He was a friend of a friend living here in America. I wanted to be able to keep up on the japanese that i had learnd and he had a good grasp on english already. Now a year and a half later we are married. and its still hard to get him to speak to me in japanese sometimes.

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  • http://www.japanesephrases.org/ Japanese phrases

    A lot of great advice. ST's was especially good for Japanese women.

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  • midorigreenchan

    I'm an American-born Japanese and I'm a girl but I don't want to Skype cuz I'm not that great with talking to strangers…face-to-face. Kinda creepy. I speak English too, so I can help with both if you need me! maybe with AIM or something?(:
    私わアメリカうまれの日本人と女の子だけれどSkypeわしらない人と見てしゃべるのがすきじゃないの…なんか ブキミなの。え-語もしゃべれるから手伝いでもいるんだったら私にたの見なさい!!AIM わどうかなー?

  • midorigreenchan

    I'm an American-born Japanese and I'm a girl but I don't want to Skype cuz I'm not that great with talking to strangers…face-to-face. Kinda creepy. I speak English too, so I can help with both if you need me! maybe with AIM or something?(:
    私わアメリカうまれの日本人と女の子だけれどSkypeわしらない人と見てしゃべるのがすきじゃないの…なんか ブキミなの。え-語もしゃべれるから手伝いでもいるんだったら私にたの見なさい!!AIM わどうかなー?

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  • engynihon

    hi Koichi san ^^ お元気ですか
    here's my problem … i have been STUDYING English for about 15 years now, i am just okay with it though , i wonder if that is a big problem itself, since it's not my tounge lang. when i talk in english with a japanese language partner i feel a little scared myself, and keep checking english garammar and stuff all going into my head cuz i don't want him/her feel disappointed hmm is it a problem ??
    よろしくお願いいたします

  • engynihon

    what a wonderful story ^^ wish u happy marriage

  • Ketrikken

    I met my Japanese language exchange partner through the internet site meant especially for seeking someone for that purpose (it's really a great resource, though limited only to Germany residents). She is a young housewife, and at first I was afraid we won't have anything in common but it turned out great. We've been meeting up regularly for almost half a year now, and she is as much passionate about learning English, as I am about Japanese. Ironically, I was expecting her to be shy and introverted but she turned out to be much more outgoing than me and also, shockingly, she is not reserved about more or less personal topics.

  • http://twitter.com/onceuponajooks Matthew de Verteuil

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    Don't slander the good name of the scientific method with your drivel, thanks.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Engynihon,

    I can completely relate to what your saying. I'm an English speaker learning Japanese. At first, it was really easy to try and speak Japanese because even if I completely messed up, no one seemed to care and everyone was very patient. Now, it's been about 5 years since I started and I feel like I'm going in circles at times. I have a hard time saying things because I am embarrassed that my level is so low even though I've been doing this for quite some time.

    The times when I feel that I'm doing well is when I have a partner that doesn't care about all the mistakes, as long as they can understand what I'm saying.

    I think you need to just talk and let yourself make mistakes. After 15 years, you really can't worry about those things anymore otherwise you will never get anywhere!

    Good luck!

  • Jonathan

    Hi Engynihon,

    I can completely relate to what your saying. I'm an English speaker learning Japanese. At first, it was really easy to try and speak Japanese because even if I completely messed up, no one seemed to care and everyone was very patient. Now, it's been about 5 years since I started and I feel like I'm going in circles at times. I have a hard time saying things because I am embarrassed that my level is so low even though I've been doing this for quite some time.

    The times when I feel that I'm doing well is when I have a partner that doesn't care about all the mistakes, as long as they can understand what I'm saying.

    I think you need to just talk and let yourself make mistakes. After 15 years, you really can't worry about those things anymore otherwise you will never get anywhere!

    Good luck!

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  • engtojap^_^

    So where do you find language partners anyway? I just tried skype with no success. It seems there is no one online….ever! I am 28 and speak english fluently and would like to talk with someone in Japan. Any recommendations on where to find people to practice with, what software i should be using, etc? Thanks.

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  • LittleGreen

    I really liked this article! I have never looked for a language partner myself, because when I was in Japan I gave private lessons in Finnish and had made a lot of Japanese friends anyways. But I did get to follow my fellow exchange students' episodes with language parnters. In the university I went to, they had a program for language partners that allowed for languages other than English, and paired people with similar interests.

    The thing is, the majority of people studying languages are female. That has nothing to do with whether girls or boys are more apt in languages, but it's just a fact that any language faculty consists mostly of women. That means most of the people looking for language partners are also women. That's good for the guys looking forward to being paired up with Japanese girls, but not so good for those who'd like to meet guys to learn guy things.

    Anyways, it is also my experience that in much the same way that Western guys want Asian girlfriends, Asian girls want Western boyfriends so that they can brag to their friends! I think that also contributed to the amount of girls participating in the program and hanging around in the international lounge, talking to guys. Especially the German boys were always surrounded by girls. Of course, being Japanese, they don't want a creepy dude, but if you're a nice, normal guy and don't come off too aggressive, you have great chances of actually getting a girlfriend! (As my exchange happened years ago, some of these people are married with their former language partners!) However, it should never be the aim of the language pairing to get a boy/girlfriend.

    And yes, just like some other girls have experienced, we also need to be careful of the “polite and reserved” Japanese men, although it is a little less likely than Western men going for Asian women. I had to stop teaching some students, because they seemed to think it was a good way to get a girlfriend.

    Either way, I'd recommend getting a language partner of the same sex, for the simple reason of Japanese being a gender-specific language. Girls don't want to sound too manly and boys don't want to sound too girly! The best way for this is trying to make Japanese friends, that way the conversations will come naturally. This, of course, isn't always possible if you live outside Japan, although I've noticed I end up finding Japanese people even in the middle of Finnish countryside…

  • Rsm3180

    midori, I would like to take you up on that offer actually. I'm studying Japanese in college this coming fall because it contributes to my career goals, I've been doing some self study for over a year now when I have time. I'm also trying to learn Korean and that has been my main focus, but I think having a reliable language partner for this fall would go a long way in improving my language speaking skills. I am male, no I'm not interested in hitting on you. I'm only interested in what I can learn so your safe, no creepy otaku here. ( Anyone else that reads this with strictly learning purposes in mind feel free to reply as well, male or female.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/editapps.php#!/profile.php?id=745604179 Rsm3180

    My contact for serious language exchange only. http://www.facebook.com/editapps.php#!/profile….

  • Attila

    Great place to find a language partner is http://www.mylanguageexchange.com/ I just recently made an account on there and in my first week I had a dude from japan message me, and yesterday we talked on skype for the first time! It wasn't awkward at all, hes a really cool dude and his english is a lot better then my japanese. I def recommend this website

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    Those that want to practice speaking and listening are doing so because they really want to learn English for the sake of learning English .

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J7HI5L4LRHW5756PRFS3JBY57Y Ingvar

    Hi i need some feedback for my site. Its supposed to be a good place for finding a serious language or skype partner. Where you can write a bit about yourself and (soon) also be able to write reviews about people youve met there.. it a work under construction but what do you think?
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  • N/Anickname

    I sure as hell need a language partner. I think I’m actually going in circles when learning Japanese, too much input without output makes my little Japan go round in circles without me getting anywhere! Thanks for the great post Koichi !

  • Hullooo

    I have the same problem right now! My language exchange partners end up speaking English all the time, so I don’t benefit. I’m going to start dumping them too.

  • UKChan

    Great comment! I have been on language exchanges with “polite and reserved” Japanese men. The biggest problem I’m experiencing with them is that they don’t show their feelings, so after the 10th language exchange, I get some extreme indication of their interest, e.g. emails that say “lets go away together for the weekend” or “I know a great love hotel we can go to.”

    It’s only then that I realise the language exchanges were “dates” in their mind. I’d say that’s MORE creepy than the Western guy who hits on you the first time you meet him. At least you can say no, and move on…

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  • Johnrabeisi

    please become my friend

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001148862711 Anke Meiering

    I hope some of them want to learn German :)

  • Zezen

    A great article, Koichi! I have found it by googling the keywords.
    I have also read the comments. I have not realized that a simple language exchange could be such a touchy subject…

    First of all – there are some double standards at play here ;). A sizeable number of you mention “creepy” language partners, of whatever sex they may be, and then end up marrying exactly the type of person that you had been trying to avoid. At least you take it in a stride and write about it – it helps.

    But more to the point – pure language exchange and advice to the seakers of language exchange partners. I have tried Lang-8 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang-8) and http://www.language-exchanges.org/ for that purpose. Couchsurfing.org and their local meeting is also a great place to hook up with a willing expat.

    (No, I have no commercial interest in any of them, I am but a user – and my account there is zezen, in case somebody wanted to exchange their Japanese for, say, Polish.) Ciao!

    A Pole

  • http://www.jgeeks.com/ JGeeks

     This post is right on. I was tutoring a Japanese girl once and couldn’t for the life of me get her to speak. She was exceedingly bright and aced the grammar tests I gave her — but could barely say more than one or two words. My Japanese wasn’t so good at the time either — might have helped if I could have spoken more, with some of those intentional mess-ups.

    Any thoughts on how to start one of these conversation practice sessions (once you have a partner, I mean)? Or tips for when you get stuck?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Hard to say since it depends a bit on the person, but things like bringing prepared topics (and emailing them beforehand letting them know what topics you’re covering, is probably good) help a ton… gets rid of the ‘what should we talk about I dunno” issue, and if you warn them ahead of time they can at least study a bit beforehand… you could even create a list of vocab words for the particular subject, which would give them direction and things to prepare for conversation practice.

    That’s about all I can think of off the top of my head. If all else fails, there’s always a beer or two to get the embarrassment out of your systems! :D

  • http://twitter.com/soundtrip2011 Meg

    I like the idea of preparing a list of topics and vocabulary and emailing it to your language partner beforehand. I met with a Japanese girl from the language school I go to and it was awkward because we had no idea what to talk about. The questions I asked her were the ones she either didnt have an idea about or was not interested at all. :(

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  • ram

    hi am frm india …i need a good language partene for me..any body theer….pls cntact me…..007.ramasubbu@gmail.com….frnds……..

  • Zithri

    hi…

  • Sandy

    I see this is quite an old post, so maybe too late to comment, but I found it very interesting. I’ve been learning Japanese for only a few months, but I’m itching to practice conversation and wondering when is the right time to start looking for a language exchange?

    Too soon and the conversation will dry up after the most basic exchanges, I imagine. How long did everyone else wait before starting an exchange?

    My Japanese class is frustratingly basic. The other students will only use Romaji, and the level of conversation I can engage in with the other (English) students is really limited. So I’ve been going to the local Japanese supermarket every week just for the chance to say the occasional ありがとうございます or すみません (in between practicing reading the labels)! I should really not be using my local supermarket as a learning centre, should I :)

  • Jonobugs

    Sandy, this topic is ongoing, so even though it’s old, it’s still relevant.

    I’m not sure if my advice is any use for you but I do have loads of experience as I live in Japan.

    I think the first and foremost thing you need to do is to find an exchange partner that you have something in common with. That is probably just as important as finding one at the right level. Unfortunately, it’s not easy! がんばっれ!

    There is nothing wrong with getting practice at your supermarket (if they speak Japanese). Why not try something a bit more challenging? Ask where they keep a product, or ask them ABOUT a particular product. This will require some research and study on your part as you will need to make sure you can at least ask the question properly. Don’t be shy about it. Most people are very generous when it comes to this sort of thing and you have a somewhat ‘captive’ audience as the workers are there to help you. You won’t find a better audience than that.

    Good luck!

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  • bill

    haha. Most of the Japanese girls looking for language partners are in fact looking for boyfriends. It is only “creepy” if they don’t like the guy. I refused to have girls as language partners since they were flaky, neurotic, unwilling to speak Japanese and always looking for romance. You could tell this article was written by a nerdy guy since he tries to white knight and act like these girls are innocents just looking to practice English.

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    “will make it easier to understand girls” – HA, as if this was possible in any language!

  • 希夢

    I think it’s fine to find a language partner and talk to them. I’m shy so I usually only IM them but I’ve had over 20 people from http://www.japan-guide.com that I’ve talked to and if they’re being flirty or whatever I just ignore them. I just casually talk to them. For some reason guys are easier to talk to than girls even though I never talk to guys in the real world o.o
    Also, I usually suck at starting conversations in English but it’s easier in Japanese. I don’t feel as shy writing in a foreign language. Possibly because the writing script is so different and my brain doesn’t really process what the other person thinks of me xp
    FYI, I’m a girl.
    Native language: English.