Skype offers a fantastic opportunity for learning languages online. You can have free, live conversations with native speakers, and even use video for a more complete immersion experience. Learning languages with Skype is very effective.
Finding a language exchange partner
The first difficulty, though, is finding willing native speakers. If you’re not in a country that speaks your target language (so you’ll want to use Skype), it’s not easy to make native-speaking friends.
A very good site for finding language exchange partners is The Mixxer. Create a profile listing your native and target language/s, and you’ll start getting requests very quickly.
If you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, you can also try the creatively titled Language Exchange Network. This isn’t as full-featured as The Mixxer, but all you need to do is create a profile and leave it, and let the requests come in.
Using Skype effectively
Once you’ve an exchange partner, try to persuade them to arrange your conversations into 20 minutes of one language, then 20 minutes of the other. A lot of people will simply talk in their target language and not let you use yours, which can end up with odd conversations that use both languages alternately - not very beneficial for your fluency. Don’t be afraid to just drop or ignore partners who aren’t co-operative - there are always more people.
Try to arrange a regular time to have your conversation (if you’ve got several exchange partners then it’s easy to have several conversations a week without being too demanding on their time) - this will make sure you get consistent practice in, and keep you motivated to continue.
Unless you’re at the level where you can easily chat away in your target language, it’s better to plan ahead a bit and think of some topics to speak about. This not only allows you to prepare specific vocabulary for the session and get more out of it, but also to avoid awkward conversations that fizzle out and put you off trying again.
Some (or even a lot) of nerves before language exchange conversations are inevitable. Remember that your exchange partner probably feels the same, and that ultimately you’re there to learn a language, not to impress people with your charisma and fantastic personality.