When you study abroad you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to take full advantage of the experience, especially when it comes to improving your language skills. One way to do this is to find a conversation partner in your host country. A conversation partner should be someone who a) is a native speaker and b) wants to practice his or her English, so that the relationship is mutual, and you’re helping one another.

Now you may be thinking, But I’m already practicing my French. Every day, everywhere, all the time, and I don’t doubt that you are. Ask yourself these questions though… and the answers might surprise you. Are the people I talk to in my day to day interactions correcting me? Are they helping me understand my mistakes? Are they teaching me the vocabulary words that I’m lacking? Chances are, the answer to at least one, if not more, of these is no.

Practice pinned on noticeboard

(photo by

As far as your classmates are concerned, they’re in school to learn too, so teaching probably isn’t on their minds. Outside school, depending on your level of French, others may need to concentrate a little more to understand what you’re saying, just because they’re used to hearing native speakers. It isn’t likely they’ll be correcting you on the spot either with grammatical explanations or the proper etiquette of French linguistics.

Finally, there’s the unfortunate reality of people figuring out that English is your first language and switching to English in conversation simply because it’s faster and they’re impatient- obviously disappointing when you’ve travelled to France to practice your French. This is where the benefits of having a conversation partner come in.

What to look for in a conversation partner

Some study abroad programs offer their students conversation partners as an extracurricular activity, while others have been known to set up exchanges for students when requested. Ask your program. If need be you can set out in search of your own conversation partner.


(A language partner can be anyone. Photo by

Choose carefully. A classmate, friend, relative of your host family, etc., who’s a native French speaker and wants to practice his or her English is an ideal choice, and preferably someone with language goals of their own- aspiring to speak a certain number of hours in English per month, increasing their overall level of fluency, or preparing for an upcoming trip to the U.S for example.

Recommended tips for a successful exchange

*Discuss your goals upfront with one another.

*Share your strengths and weakness, so you’ll each have an understanding of where the other may need extra help or practice. Be specific (maybe there’s one tense in particular that you don’t have a firm grasp of, or you’d like to expand your vocabulary relating to a particular theme or context.)

* Plan to meet regularly and at a minimum of once a week.

*Spend half the time speaking in English and half speaking in French.

*Bring a notebook and jot things down as you learn. You can study/ look back at your notes later.

*Meet in a public place, like the library or a café, etc. Please remember that above all, safety should be your number one concern when you are a student abroad.

(This notebook / calendar is perfect for convo meetups. Photo by

By nature, practicing your French with a native speaker who wants to improve his or her English is less intimidating that talking to other native speakers. You’ll be on the same level when it comes to language, so you’ll also be comfortable asking questions and learning from your mistakes. Be attentive when the tables are turned and you find yourself explaining all those idiomatic expressions we use in America and the rules of English grammar. As time goes by you’ll gain the confidence necessary to start speaking French more freely and more often with others, too, until eventually… you might just start sounding like a native speaker yourself.





Julie Kemeklis

Julie Kemeklis is a freelance writer and language teacher from West Windsor, NJ who writes on a range of topics including travel & culture, and family & parenting. She studied abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, and received her MA from the University of Georgia’s Department of Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish literature.


No go zones in Paris?

by Andrea Bouchaud on January 19, 2015


(Is this what has become of Paris?

After Charlie Hebdo, are there dangerous “no go” zones in Paris? My favorite resident Parisian, Emy, takes on a tour on what is considered a very dangerous part of Paris by American news sources (it happens to be where she lives) to dispel this fear. As I always say, you need to hear it from a native’s mouth. Thanks for taking this one on Emy!




(Photo by

Come with me as we go over what Parisian bathrooms, kitchens, doing laundry, and food shopping are really like in the beautiful City of Light. It’s not as glam as you think.



The Paris Diaries and the Tale of the Copyright Catastrophe

by Andrea Bouchaud on January 13, 2015


(trying to get there. Photo by

Whenever you publish a work in America, you should copyright the work with the United States Copyright Office. It’s only $35.00 and it protects your rights as the author of your work. As a published author, I did this for Twenty in Paris and The Paris Diaries. Just like the wheels of justice, the wheels of copyrighting also turn quite slow. It’s been 10 months since The Paris Diaries was published. To be honest, I kinda forget about it until I recently received an email from the Copyright Office. Intrigued, I opened it up to see what they had to say. Rather than seeing a secret note on how much it was loved, I saw a note that said I need to update the authors in my request. Apparently, the photos that feature me must list the person who took that photo. I didn’t realize that when I put those photos in the book. As I do not know who took which photo at this point or even remember anyone’s full names, I am going to delete those photos from the book. This means that The Paris Diaries is going to have a bit of a different look on the inside. Everything else will stay the same content wise. So if you’d like to get a clandestine copy of The Paris Diaries, act now before January 31, 2015 .

green pasture

(Hopefully, The Paris Diaries will be getting to greener pastures soon.