If you are living in the UK language exchanges are essential to progress and put into practice what you have learnt. It is no comparison with living in a Francophone country where you are exposed and immersed in French 24 hours a-day, but it is the next best thing.
It is also a great way to make friends (even if they leave eventually) and, over a coffee, relatively cheap!
Following in the footsteps of Sartre and De Beauvoir, a good choice for initial chat is a cafe or coffee shop. Logically somewhere neutral that doesn’t involve imposing your own particular tastes is optimal. You can save the treat of introducing your french counterpart to your favourite traditional British greasy spoon until later. A coffee shop has the additional advantage that it allows the initial rondez-vous to be convoked in the absence of the presence of alcohol, which is also preferable whilst your language partner’s attitude towards this is established.
If they are comfortable with it, further down the line a English pub can serve as an excellent venue. Personally, I think Wetherspoons’ are often the best environments as they are equipped with ample seating and normally don’t have background music.
Avec quelle fréquence?
I try to meet up with French friends at least twice a week for exchanges. I generally work on the basis of two-hour sessions: an hour in English and an hour in French.
Comment est-il fait?
Some people like to mix up the languages but my brain is not that sophisticated and takes a while to warm up in French.
The other important thing to remember is for you to speak as much as possible and for them to ask questions which oblige you to elaborate on your points and stretch your vocabulary during the French-speaking half of the meetup. Logically, the roles should then be switched during the English-speaking half.
I would strongly recommend doing an exchange with somebody who is roughly at your level. If they are much better than you, there may be a tendency, particularly when attempting to describe more complex thoughts, for you to revert to English and you don’t want to end up going all Joey Barton!
Also I think it is good to meet with both sexes so that you experience a range of different voices and topics.
The best thing is to try to talk about DELF/DALF themes and your counterpart may be studying something similar in English. This can be bit contrived but may save you going over the same old topics each time. It is quite a good idea to take along an article which you can use to stimulate and focus your conversation.
In my experience French people are, on average, much more knowledgeable and interested in current affairs and politics so it is useful to have something to say about what is going on in the UK.
Comment trouver votre partenaire?
Conversationexchange.com is a simple but highly effective way of meeting French people for face-to-face language exchanges. I have succeeded in securing three long-term French-English language exchanges via this site.
Due its popularity, Gumtree is also very good for finding language exchange partners.
An alternative is to post a notice on a university noticeboard, at an International Society, or somewhere like the Alliance Francais, if they permit it.
Here is an example of a notice that I wrote:
Bonjour tout le monde!
Voici une opportunité fantastique pour un français ou un francophone de rencontrer un vrai Britannique.
Si vous aimez la conversation sur tous les sujets: politique, arts, musique, sports, et culture en general, contactez-moi tout de suite!
Je vous expliquerai le mystère de la culture d’Britannique: les gens bizarres, la tradition sans point, la Reine, le sentiment anti-Européen, les « Fish and Chips », le « Cockney Rhyming slang » même la terrible cuisine! Tout ça! C’est superb n’est-ce pas??