Here at MosaLingua, we’re convinced that the earlier you start speaking a language, the better. That’s why more and more sites and apps are now offering language exchanges. The MosaLingua apps teach you the most common and useful words for general conversation… But then it’s up to you to use them in real life! True, most sites encourage webcam or phone conversations. But that is far from the only way to practice your foreign language skills! If you want to practice speaking but feel too intimidated or shy, here’s an alternative that may be right up your alley. We’re talking about online chatting.

Last Updated: 10/07/2020

Text reads: Chatting online to practice foreign languages, MosaLingua. View through a window of a person video chatting on their phone and working on their laptop at the same time.

Chatting Online with Penpals

The idea of online chatting, or instant messaging, has changed a lot over the years. Not long ago, you could only use online chat rooms on your computer. Now, with smartphones and 4G, you can chat online with anyone in the world no matter where you are! It’s like sending text messages, but with no nasty surprises on your next phone bill. And the beauty of online chatting is that it is totally stress-free! Unlike in real-time conversations, you can write, erase, rewrite, and reread your messages before you send them. Plus, you don’t have to worry about your accent.

How does chatting online help my language skills?

First of all, chatting online doesn’t require that you be in front of a computer. You can work on your skills anytime, anywhere! Those with busy schedules can also squeeze in time for chats more easily than a phone call. Another advantage: you get to work on your writing skills, reading comprehension and vocabulary. Writing and reading are connected to speaking, so while talking is the best method, you do benefit from chatting. Online chatting is like simulating a real-life conversation, except that you get to think before you “speak.”

Nowadays, you can really personalize your chatting experience. Send photos from your daily routine and use them as a springboard for conversation. A photo of your lunch, your vacation spots, your new book, anything that conveys who you are and gets you talking. Remember, it doesn’t have to be full paragraphs. You can send a pic and some words that describe it (which is more helpful than Instagram) or even send over a word or two that you want to ask about.

So how can you practice speaking by chatting? Through voice recordings! You can speak, re-listen, redo, write the transcription, etc. Try to transcribe something your penpal says in the language you’re learning for an added challenge.


How do I get started?

Sign up on Tandem, HelloTalk, Verbling, Mixxer, etc., and look for someone who is a native speaker of the language you want to learn. Send them a message with a suggestion to simply chat, with or without video. Our advice: show some initiative. There are people on these sites who may lose motivation or forget. If you have an interesting and fun exchange from the beginning, chances are that it’ll last. Plus, language exchanges often lead to great friendships. It’s a great way to discover a new culture.

There are tons of sites and applications where you can talk online or by phone/tablet. Below is the one that’s most accessible, in our opinion:

HelloTalk: an iOS/Android app that is free and great to use for chatting. You can find partners from all over and schedule times to talk. You can also easily initiate a conversation with your partners and set the type of conversation you want to have (chat, audio, or video calls). The app also offers tools to help you in your exchange, such as a translator, voice transcription, etc. Lately, it has also evolved toward a full-fledged social network. With now more than a million users, the exchange possibilities are countless. I checked the app out for this article, and now I use it all the time!

Some Ideas and Advice

You may want to start with the 7 Golden Rules of Studying with a Language Partner. Try to find a good balance with your partner. You don’t want to always be speaking your native language. After all, you signed up for an exchange, not to be someone’s private tutor. Specify ahead of time when you’ll speak each language. You can alternate between the two. Eventually, you may be able to go back and forth in either language without thinking! Here’s some more advice:

Just learn a word? Add it to your review list on MosaLingua. If it’s not already in there, you can make the card yourself.

We’re running out of things to say!

You may need some help pushing conversation along sometimes. That’s okay, and doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to start looking for a new partner. Here are some tips when things start getting awkward:

  • Propose a special idea that will help spark conversation! For example, send a photo with a short description each day. You should both write in the language you’re learning.
  • You could also comment on a news article in your target language. Just send the link and say a thing or two or ask their opinion. It’s best to choose lighthearted topics to avoid political or cultural debates that could throw a wrench into the friendship, at least at first.
  • Be sure to introduce yourself during the first exchange to find common ground for conversations. Note down your partner’s interests so that you can ask about them.
  • Go into video mode from time to time! It’s a great wait to challenge yourself and put what you’ve learned into practice. For example, on the weekend, you can Skype with your penpal for a little bit. That way you can also look at your phone to see what came up in conversation during the week.

What about you, have you already tried chatting online in a language you’re learning? Let us know, leave us a comment below!