HackCollege alumna Rosario Doriott wrote a few posts on learning languages by connecting with other speakers around the globe, and today’s guest post refines on those ideas. Today’s post is by Harry Ness, a senior at Georgetown University and the guy behind The Simplicity Scholar (which is also a book). If you would like to write a guest post, shoot us an email at [email protected].

Everyone knows that the only way to learn a language is to practice speaking it… a lot. Most students, however, have few opportunities to do this, so oral communication is always their biggest weakness.

HackCollege already discussed the utility of Skype as a foreign language instructor, but finding a good online language partner and practicing with him or her regularly is not easy. In this post, I’ll lay out a simple but effective system for optimizing the online language exchange experience.

Step 1: Plug into the Community

Use the online language exchange community, The Mixxer, to search for English students who are native speakers of the language you are learning. I recommend this site because it’s simple and integrates smoothly with Skype.

When you setup your Mixxer profile, make sure to include a profile picture and self-description. Doing so will reduce your creepiness factor and thus increase the likelihood of people accepting your friend requests. Once your profile is setup, you can use the search feature to find potential partners.

Step 2: Be a Language Partner Playboy/Playgirl

You’ll soon discover that not all language exchange partners are created equal. Some are more available, some are better at teaching the language, and some are simply more fun to talk to. You’ll probably never find your language partner soul mate, and if you do, it definitely won’t be on the first try.

That’s why I recommend starting with a mass friending campaign. Take ten minutes and resend a generic friend request message to a dozen potential partners. Get a feel for the respondents via IM chat, then move up to voice/video chat when you’re comfortable. Eventually, the good partners will emerge, and if need be, you can easily block all the weirdos and anyone else you don’t want to talk to anymore.

Being language-partner-ly promiscuous has many perks. More partners means more exposure to a variety of accents and backgrounds. Also, more partners means a greater likelihood of having at least one person conveniently available whenever you sign on.

Step 3: Add Structure to Your Exchange

Narrow down your partner list to your favorite two or three and plan a practice schedule and curriculum with them. Prepare discussion topics ahead of time and focus on cultural issues as a starting point. The more structure to your language exchange sessions the more you will benefit from them.

No longer is geography an excuse for sucking badly at a foreign language. With Skype and Mixxer, you can finally get that much-needed speaking practice without even leaving your dorm room. And if you study abroad, you might already have a network of locals waiting to give you a warm welcome.