Adapting,  Language Learning

What Does it Mean to Intercambio?

Dear Teresa,

When you arrive in Spain and are looking to meet people and/or practice your Spanish, you will probably hear about intercambios de idiomas, or languages exchanges. These social events are a great way to meet people and practice your Spanish while abroad. There are two main types of intercambios you will probably find—in groups or one-on-one. While we think that both can add value to your social life and your language skills, today we are going to be focusing on the one-to-one intercambio sessions. You can read more about group intercambios here.


What does it mean to intercambio?One-to-one intercambios

Intercambio literally means to exchange and in an intercambio de idiomas you are going to be exchanging your languages knowledge. In many cases, one-on-one language exchanges are great because they let you really practice your skills one-on-one with a native (or fluent) speaker. We believe that speaking is one of the best ways to improve your spoken Spanish, so this means that you will be able to learn by doing.


Intercambios should be a balance

Like all relationships, intercambios need to be built in a way that is beneficial for both people involved. This means that you should not go into an intercambio expecting to speak Spanish 95% of the time, but that both people have to make an effort to speak their own language around 50% of the time. Does this ever work out perfectly? Not unless you set a timer or the like. But most of the time it is the thought that counts and we would recommend trying to make sure you don’t ever make your practice buddy feel like you are taking advantage of them.

At the same time, in our experience, we have found that we tend to speak more Spanish than English in our intercambios in Granada. Maybe this is because our Spanish level is already good enough that we can have more in-depth conversations in Spanish or that the other person may be uncomfortable speaking English without building a friendship with you first. However, you should still try to make the other person feel like they are getting something out of the situation too. If this is not a 50/50 language split, think about other ways you can make it feel more “equal.”


What does it mean to intercambio?It might not always be what you expect

We have found that most people who participate one-on-one intercambios are actually interested in learning the language, however, you might find that things don’t always line up the way you would like. This means that although you will have something in common with the other person right from the start—a desire to improve your language skills—you always run the risk that the other person is not a native speaker or isn’t at the same level as you. What you will have to decide is if the time spent together with the other person is worth it for you!

In addition, just like every person isn’t going to be your best friend, don’t expect all intercambios to hand you the perfect language practice buddy. And don’t expect that all intercambio partners will stand the test of time either. Some of your language exchange partners may end up becoming really good friends but with others you may only talk a couple of times without losing touch. We understand that it can be frustrating and you may want something that is more long-lasting, but you will have to find something that works well for everyone.


Finding an intercambio Partner

What does it mean to Intercambio?With the current situation, we cannot really meet as much face-to-face, so, how do you find an intercambio? With all the online options, it is easy to find people near you who want to learn languages. We recommend searching for people looking for intercambios on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. If you are learning a language with a study abroad program, they may even organize intercambios with locals for you. Finally, you will probably find that there are specific programs that will help you organize a langague exchange if you cannot find anything organically. One thing we know for sure is that people are looking to improve their language skills all the time, and if you look a little bit you will find people who want to talk with you.

Share your favorite ways to find your intercambio partners in the comments below!


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