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.
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!