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Conversational Shyness (especially on Skype)

Okay, so this post sort of has nothing to do with Duolingo directly, though it is definitely related to learning languages so relevant.

Most on this site will agree that Duolingo is not everything you need to learn a language. Some TV and books would be good, Using flashcards - very helpful. A site like studyspanish.com or about.com to explain the grammar you're confused about is often necessary. But some would argue, rather justly, that conversing with others and practising speaking, especially with native speakers, is key.

So I personally have reached a point where I'd like to take what I've learned over the past few weeks and put it into practice. Reach out and attempt to converse with another Spanish speaker. I don't have any Spanish-speaking neighbours or close friends at the moment to converse with, and I certainly don't have the funds to hop on a plane to Europe or South America (Australia is miles and miles away from anywhere important). So I make use of the wonderful information age we have available and hop on Skype to have a chat with someone who does speak Spanish as a first language. Simple, right?

Well, actually, no. For some reason, I'm terrified. I have had Skype conversations with people I've never met in person before, but usually that was still after corresponding via blogs, forums and/or chat rooms for several weeks or months before moving on to face-to-face video encounters. There also was never any anxiety over whether or not we'd be able to communicate, as most of the time we were both native speakers of English so the linguistic barrier wasn't an issue.

But this is going to inevitably involve not only anxiety over whether or not we'll be able to communicate, but I also would have no idea what to talk about with a stranger. The weather? I don't think the weather in Spain is going to be similar to the weather in Australia (though I could be wrong), but even then, who actually gives a hoot about the weather? And I don't think I've even learned how to say "It's still raining" in Spanish yet. :-P

I even considered starting out Skype Language Exchanges in French (a language which I am much more confident in) before moving on to Spanish just to test the waters, but even that's scary.

Has anyone else ever attempted language exchanges before, either in person or online? How did that go for you? Do you have any advice, tips or tricks pertaining to getting over the shyness (and, if I'm being completely honest, wariness of speaking with guys, especially as a young female?)

Duolingo seems like a safer place for opening a discussion about this than on the italki.com discussion, as exchanging skype addresses and languages is not liberally encouraged here.

May 3, 2014



I just recently had my first language-exchange web chat and totally understand why people are terrified before they try it. Wish I had the magic words to make that fear go away, but I don't. Instead, I can just offer a few tidbits of advice:

1) Instead of Skype, consider WeSpeke (it's free, and I didn't know about it either until someone on Duolingo told me about it). It's specifically for language-exchange conversations, and while you're chatting you can click on various buttons to declare the language you're targeting and/or specific topics of interest (movies, music, tv shows, etc.).

2) The goal is to get your partner talking and comfortable in his/her native language, so try to memorize basic questions and statements in their language., i.e. "What are your favorite movies/music/foods?" and "Do you have brothers and sisters?" You might only pick up 30-50% of what they're saying, mostly because your mind's racing as you're thinking about your next question, and that's OK.

3) Memorize basic phrases for those awkward moments, like "I'm sorry, I didn't understand." or "Could you please repeat that a little more slowly?" Or even better, be honest about your anxiety and memorize "I'm nervous, thanks for being patient with me!" Unless you're chatting with a complete jack***, he/she will totally understand and will likely be just as nervous!


Thanks for the reference to WeSpeke. I will definitely be signing up to that site.


I have made a couple of friends through www.mylanguageexchange.com You can start off writing to a few people, until you find someone that you get on well with. It took a very long time before I built up the nerve to start talking on Skype, and if we don't do it for a while, I lose my nerve again. I find talking to strangers incredibly difficult, even in English.

A couple of things that we found helped a lot: Agree by email on a subject or two for the Skype conversation - e.g. What I did this weekend, talking about my family etc. That way you can mentally prepare yourself, and look up some words that you think you may need to know. Send through a picture to discuss - my Italian friend sent through a picture of her family for me to look at while she talked, and described each member of her family. Agree up front on how long the call will last - that way you don't have the awkward thing of tailing off until you have nothing to talk about, and then hanging up feeling bad. Make it short and sweet to start with, until you are comfortable talking, and going off topic.

If you find the whole idea just too intimidating to start with, recording yourself speaking and sending that through to each other can help as an intermediary step. We started with this. I would send through a recording of myself speaking Italian, and then she would send back a recording of any corrections, and then one of herself speaking in English, for me to correct.

Another thing we found useful for just pronunciation practice (not conversation) is that we would find a written article in our target language, send through the link, and then record ourselves reading it aloud. That way, we could see what the other person was reading, and help with any difficulties they were having. It is obviously not as advanced as having a 'real time' conversation, but is a good first step to give you some confidence.


You've listed some really good tips there, and you also got me thinking... some company out there could really make the "next generation" language-exchange platform if they really wanted to. Your post (and this thread in general) underscores the fact that people are mortified of the prospect of going into a conversation "cold" and facing those awkward "trailing off" moments you mentioned.

But what if a platform allowed people to record little "intro" clips of themselves as part of their profile, so you had a better idea of who (and what skill level) you'd be chatting with? What if the chat platform itself presented little activities ,games, etc. to help break the ice, instead of participants staring at each other and hoping the awkwardness wears off soon?


é veramente bello il sito, grazie per l'idea mi iscrivo subito. ! the site is really nice, thanks for the idea I sign up right away. !

scusami per il mio inglese I'm sorry for my english

ciao bye


I can totally understand the fear. I was raised in the Alabama (Southern US) and we have long conversations with strangers about nothing all the time so talking to someone that I do not know has never been a problem. I am learning Spanish, for me, the anxiety comes from the thought of sounding like an idiot because I am saying a lot of things wrong and thinking the person I am talking to may not understand what I mean to say. What I have found that helps me is using the chat function on Busuu where I can talk to native Spanish speakers who are also learning English. I have had conversations with people that were completely in English, completely in Spanish, a mixture where we switched back and forth and some where I only spoke Spanish and the other person responded to me only speaking English. It is comforting because I am making mistakes in Spanish, but they are also making mistakes in English and we correct each other. This is useful to me because it helps knowing that the person that I am talking to wants to help and is not just being critical.

I have had two minute conversations with people as well as two hour conversations. I talk about everything such as the weather in our current cities, our daily life, why we are both wanting to learn a new language, comparing the differences between the cities/countries that we live in...etc. Once I start talking to people, I can determine what level their English is and that dictates what we talk about and how long we talk because if they can't understand much then we can't talk about much. Also, the chat function on Busuu allows you to turn off the microphone/camera so if you are not comfortable with the person seeing you or having your personal information, you can just chat by typing until you build your confidence. I guess the easiest thing to do if you get any guys that start being creepy is to just close the window. I definitely would not give them any Skype information or personal contact info until you are comfortable with the person that you are chatting with. I hope this helps.


I don't think that making mistakes has to be something to be ashamed of. Everyone has to go through that phase of making lots of mistakes; think about how you probably talked as a small child. Laugh at yourself; it can actually make it easier. It won't make other people think your stupid, they might laugh a little bit, but try to laugh with them. In the end, I think you will be more comfortable with them. While I was hanging out with my friends from Spain, I realized that not being completely fluent makes me seem like more interesting of a person to be around. Before I knew Spanish I loved to hang out with my Spanish friend, and one of the reasons why is that he was learning English, and sometimes it really was funny.

I also highly suggest going on a chatroom to practice (no microphones or cameras, just typing) to get the feel of conversation. Here's one for anyone learning Spanish: http://espanglishchat.com/


Hi Jenga_Jane! I would like to think that I have some experience with talking to people on skype for language practice, and there are a couple of personal rules that I set for myself to always follow. And it helps me a lot, as a somewhat introverted person who sometimes gets really awkward and anxious in certain social situations. (Also a young female. I only mention that because you mentioned it!)

  1. Don't go straight to audio/video calls. Chat with the person first whether via instant messaging or e-mail, etc. Find out if your personalities "click" and if conversation can go both ways. (As in, it's not just one person talking all the time while the other listens.) If your personalities click, you'd be surprised at how much you can communicate, even if there is a large language barrier. As an example, I have a Venezuelan friend that doesn't speak much English, and my spoken Spanish is still pretty bad. But we manage to laugh at each other and make silly jokes. Sometimes we have to use a translator, but it still remains fun and motivating.

  2. Take your time in establishing whether or not you're comfortable with this person. I've had some contacts that would straight away ask to go into a audio/video call. I would refuse and state that I would like to do some chatting first so that we could get to know each other better. Some of them lose their patience and I never hear from the again, some give the okay and give you time. The latter I find, more often than not becomes a regular and more reliable language partner--I even enjoy my conversations a lot more with them, because we have essentially become friends. Some write in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable. It's better to end the communication at writing level in that case. I call it "filtering".

  3. If you're very anxious about speaking another language, try it first with another learner. It might give you the confidence boost you need and give you some practice. And if you end up becoming friends, they can become your back-up for when you speak to an actual native. Then it won't be as intimidating anymore...and everybody wins.

  4. Try to find some material to do together. A text to read, a video to watch or an audio to listen to and keep some paper or a notepad near you to write things down. It helps on days where you're not feeling very talkative. :p

  5. And lastly, where you find your language partner is pretty important. It's best to go look in sites where language exchange or languages is the main subject of the site.

Anyway...I probably, in some form or another repeated what some people have already stated. But I still hope it helps. Good luck! And hey, if you're really interested in practicing Spanish, I wouldn't mind being your number 3. :D


I have absolutely nothing useful to say, because I feel the exact same way. :( On one hand, I would REALLY like to talk to someone and practice my language(s), but at the same time I'm terrified of both:

a) talking to a complete stranger -- while I don't really mind the gender or age of the other person, just the thought of going up to a complete stranger and starting a conversation is so... not me. I'm very introverted in real life, and it's hard to break that habit even on the Internet. Even with people I've known for years on other sites, I still feels very awkward.

b) sounding like a COMPLETE idiot -- I'm a C2 in English, yet I feel like I would barely get past "Hello!" in a real conversation. I don't even want to imagine what my Italian would be like. It would probably all end with an awkward silence, nervous laughter and "Oh my, look at the time! Gotta go now, bye!" after about 2 minutes. +_+


I find native Spanish speakers on duo, and add them on facebook, to have conversations in Spanish. I just say Hola, estudio Español, y estoy buscando a alguien con quién puedo conversar. And the talk goes on, if you become friends, it gets easier. I dodn't feel scared, until someone said, "I wonder how you speak", and since then we've been talking on skype, she tells me stories and reads me books, cantamos juntos, we talk nearly two hours a day. I know it is a bit scary in the beginning, but you get used to it. I'd advice you to not use direct skype language exchange sites, but make some friends and ask them to converse with you.


I can understand that so well! Personally, I need a topic to talk about to feel comfortable. I can't bring myself to chat/ mail/ speak with people just for the sake of chatting, so searching for someone just for this purpose without having actually a reason to talk to them seems to me like I was wasting their time...


Speaking as someone who finds talking to strange people about nothing in my own language terrifying...if you're comfortable with forums/blogs etc try a forum/blog for something you're interested in? If you make a friend you're more likely to feel comfortable talking. Or a chat room and IM. Sites like Busuu have a chat component and although there are the creepy guys, because it's not your skype address you can just close the window and that's that. You could also pay for a skype lesson, to ease yourself into it in a safe environment.

  • The other thing is, if you're communicating with someone learning English, then the things that most classes teach as A1-2 skills are the same whatever the language. But obviously without exact address/name/age etc. for safety. What do you do for a job? What are your hobbies? Pets? Where are you from? What is it like? (yes, the weather! You're from the other side of the world, you are, by definition, interesting. it rains in Australia? Who knew!) Have a good two direction dictionary, either online or real, for the vocab you don't know, and google images. And wikipedia (flip between languages on the same page). I have a friend who speaks fluent English (native Dutch) and still sometimes after years of knowing each other we're google imaging things (because German Dogs are Great Danes).


Well. The problems are two. The first, we don't have enough fluency and this lead us to a lack of confidence. The second, even with a good fluency it's not easy to talk with a stranger, not to add that many people does not have mental fluency in his own language (that is, they don't know about what to talk) and some times you don't know if it will exist a certain compatibility between the two person.

So, I have a plan (I'm sixty and I'm not to many plans but this is one for a short time... I believe). The old, the ancient letter is the intermediate step. First, finding a web site where I can chose people with seemed hobbies, intellectuals and materials. I will try with three or four people simultaneously. So, I will start to write and receive letters. Over time, it's possible that it appears an empathy with someone... One that answer me everyday, another that find out a topic of mutual interest, and so on. I believe that in a few months it's possible to take confidence in order to give the next step. If we agree, we put the conditions... Where, when and how. The basic rules. All by letter. Later... Let's see.

I know that I have not invented the wheel, but I think that it's a good strategy in order to don't put one's foot in it.


Look at benny lewis (Benny the Irish Polyglot)'s website It is all about speaking from day one and not being afraid to just speak.


I'm with you, I'm terrfied to speak to strangers too when it's not in my native language.. I lose all of my confidence.. If anyone has a good way to avoide this awkwardness, please share with me ^^"


el alcohol es la respuesta...


I know exactly these worries. Although I haven't done any actual language exchanging, when I've been to Denmark to visit my girlfriend, her family through habit have started conversations with me in Danish, which is fine when it comes to "How are you?" and "How long are you in Denmark for?" and stuff like that, but then when it comes to more complicated stuff like "What are you studying, again?", I'm completely lost for words. I also find that when I speak, I think too hard about what I'm going to say and how I'll move my mouth and then just end up panicking and lose it all completely. I find practising through text chats okay, provided there's something to talk about, but can still struggle and slowly give up. And it never quite feels right speaking in Danish with my girlfriend (who's a native Danish speaker) because for the past 5 years we've been speaking in English each time. And in all honesty, I struggle speaking in English to strangers, let alone a language I have limited experience in. But I find it helps to get to know someone before Skyping, just to get to know them a bit better and feel more confident that they'll help and not just make fun of you.


I know what you mean man. My mom has me order from a carnecaria in Spanish and I was paranoid as hell the first time I had to talk. Stuttering, saying 'huh', that kinda of stuff. But after a couple of times of doing it, I'm able to order confidently. All I can say is to just start with, "Hi, I'm learning your language" You'll get that hang of it soon


I would recommend that Duolingo start an online chat-room or Skype opportunities for the users of Duolingo only. That way, the participants would understand that they would be talking with other language learners that would only want to learn and improve. We would know that language expectations would not be high. We could indicate our proficiency in a language so that the person we are talking to would know what to expect, and have an idea about how to help us. I recommend this as a former language teacher and current Duolingo user.


It happens the same to me with english native speakers, since english isn't my first language I'm really scared they will laugh at my accent or that I make a mistake and end sounding completely silly.

Well, if you're scared of talking on skype right away you could start chatting with native spanish speakers for a while and then change to skype when you feel comfortable with them? Maybe that could work. Also if you're too scared you won't be able to communicate try to find someone that speaks english and spanish well so if you don't know how to say something they can help you.


I go on verbling, set up a little group of about three people, and then if there is a lull in conversation they can at least talk amongst themselves and I practice listening, also at the beginning i would hop between different convos and strike up convo with people and just say the same stuff to each person, which you can't do in real life cos it would be repeating, but with a different person each time you can obviously keep saying basic stuff and its new info to them


Hello Jenga_Jane I am a native spanish speaker. and that happens to me all the time with english (and I am a shy person which doesn't help me so much) though I've met cool people online, my problem is that I suddenly forget How to speak. So I stay quiet because of the thinking in my mind which says to me I can't make any mistake. (you know pronunciation, grammar)

by the other hand many times there was an uncomfortable silence I really hate XD

well, I still don't have solution... I mean, confidence with other person (the stranger :P ) must be something that needs to be built with time, and maybe it could lead you to find topics to talk about and improve speaking skills.

for the next days I'll try to put on practice these advices:


those are for people learning english but it works for any language.

Although the situations she puts are not exactly about an online conversation (or don't apply to our situation) I think it could be helpful. :D well... that's my opinion


Thanks for posting this! I wonder, would you feel differently if you were paying a tutor to converse on Skype?


Talking in foreign language is the fastest way to improve it. I agree that you can exhaust all the conversation themes and/or vocabulary very soon:), but you can try finding someone who is learning the same language and is of similar skill. Then you two can retell different texts in the language both of you are learning. That way you already have a topic and are able to prepare for the chat. That should help in reducing the stress level.


I've started reading/commenting on some Spanish-language Facebook pages. That might be an easier way to start: you have time to construct your answer, it's written instead of spoken (unless you do videos), it's not face-to-face.

It's interesting to get a window into topics I care about and what's going on with them in Spanish-speaking parts of the world.


Has anyone else ever attempted language exchanges before, either in person or online?

Definitely, I speak/type German, often daily, and have done for a few years, but unfortunately, it's only online. My verbal/listening practice comes from music, programmes, talking whenever I can, rambling German to my parents (always funny!) and friends. The first time I talked to my online German buddy (on Skype, verbally) I was utterly crapping myself, and it wasn't the best experience, with regards to communication, but thankfully, he was really nervous as well. (only 15, bless him) I think it helps that he wasn't a stranger; I've known him for quite a while, and he's often helping me with my German; I owe a lot of my German to his young, but helpful guidance.

The main reason I don't speak verbally with German people, is paranoia (regardless of language) and the lack of confidence, I guess you could say. I struggle, verbally, to get the words from my head to my mouth, but I've been working on it, with my listening practice and I have been speaking a LOT. I tend to say things out-loud of what I'm typing, as with what I read; I find it very helpful.

Do you have any advice, tips or tricks pertaining to getting over the shyness (and, if I'm being completely honest, wariness of speaking with guys, especially as a young female?)

I'd stick with women, until you feel comfortable, but I wouldn't AVOID talking to men, as it might serve to strengthen that anxiety around our gender, ... if you are a kid, it might be best to stick with chatting to other kids, so you can pick up a lot of slang and feel a bit more, ... ähm, ...comfortable, I guess.

As far as tips go, ... it works well when the other person is anxious as well, almost to level the playing field! xD You could perhaps look for people who are a similar level as you. Failing that, find someone understanding, not someone rude and obnoxious - I think languages should be treated with some level of respect, as with the learning of them. I've met quite a few rude individuals that have absolutely no respect for the learning of another language; they think they're "helping", but really they're giving themselves an ego-trip, and being condescending in the process; because of this, I'm always trying to be careful not to appear that way when I'm helping people, ... I generally have a lot of respect for language learners, because I know how hard it is, especially without prior language education!

Duolingo is brilliant for getting help with languages, regarding the community, I personally find, but there are most definitely a few individuals that dirty the water somewhat; you just need to ignore them, and shift aside your pride.

Best of luck with all the learning. Be patient, be stubborn, be persistent, be honest with yourself, and have fun. 8)


I went on an exchange trip to Germany and stayed with a German family there. It was very scary in the beginning because my German wasn't amazing! I was uncomfortable when I spoke and hesitated a lot. After a while, I got very used to the way they were speaking and could put together some of the sentences to understand. I was only there for a week, but if I could learn that much more German in that time frame, there is no saying what I would've learned over a course of a year! Basically, my advice is don't be shy and just try, and tell them to correct you when you say something wrong so that you know!

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