The benefits of having a language pen pal

Has it been a while since you sat down and wrote a letter to a friend on an actual piece of paper and sent it in the mail? 

I always say that my generation (born in the ‘80s) is in an interesting position because we grew up without smartphones and regular internet communication (and social media) but were young enough to use it in our teens to connect with our friends. For me, sending letters as a kid was pretty common! I had international pen pals (my aunt was an ESL teacher in Spain; I live in the US) and I wrote my friends letters sometimes even though we lived in the same city. I remember always getting cards and letters in the mail from my family, and not just at Christmas time and on my birthday. 

But having a pen pal eventually fell out of practice by the time I was in my twenties. With the popularity of texting, MySpace, Facebook and eventually Instagram, writing a letter and sending it in the mail just seemed counterproductive or silly. Why wait a week or more for a letter to arrive in the mail when I can text right now and get a reply instantly?

Because sometimes faster isn’t always better. Take language learning, for example. 

Learning a language takes time, effort, patience and connection. Letter writing encourages all four of these skills (and more)!

So, what are some benefits of a language pen pal?

You get a closer view of life in another country. 

Think about the difference between a DM in your inbox from someone in Brazil or Russia and a handwritten letter in your mailbox from Brazil or Russia. The topics you’d discuss are totally different! A letter goes beyond the usual “Hey, whats up?” or “How are you?” and looks closer at real life. Pen pals write about their jobs, their friends, their hobbies and the cities they live in. You get a much closer look at what everyday life is like in their country. Forget what it looks like in movies or on YouTube channels by popular vloggers. It’s a glimpse into the life of someone you can relate to. 

You improve your reading and writing skills

Many language learners admit that these are two areas where they struggle in their new language. Reading a novel can be intimidating and full of creative language that you don’t read in your textbooks or hear during language exchanges. Writing is the most avoided task of all, especially if you don’t like doing it in your native language. But letter writing is much different. It’s only one to two pages, so much less intimidating than reading a novel. People also write letters like they speak in real life, so it’s going to sound much more familiar to you. Plus, because you’re actually reading and writing in your target language, you’ll be working to improve these skills with every letter. 

You have to be more patient

When you send your letter in the mail, you won’t hear back from your pen pal for a week or two, so you’re going to need to be patient! This is a valuable reminder that language learning is a process (and we need to enjoy it)! But waiting for your letter aside, the actual process of letter writing requires patience. Writing by hand takes longer. You have to be more mindful of what you want to say, and words come out a little different than when you are typing. Slowing down the process of communication and really thinking about the vocabulary you’re using to form sentences (or trying new sentence structures) is really valuable in language learning. All of this new found patience will be very beneficial for you as you continue down your path to fluency. 🙂 

You’ll make a new friend who is learning a language (just like you) 

Have you ever heard the phrase “alone together”? Though it’s taken on a much more positive meaning in our post-COVID world, before the pandemic, it represented a different, more isolated way of life. We were always “connected”…always together, but not really connecting. We were on our phones at dinner or texting our family while having a face to face conversation with a friend. When you write letters to a language pen pal, you bond and connect over a shared experience. You both understand what it’s like to learn a new language and conquer all the challenges that come along with it. It’s also really interesting to hear how your experiences might differ as you learn in different countries! 

Are you ready to start a letter exchange? I have a few different ways to get started! First, if you’d like to be my pen pal, I’m currently accepting letters! Click here to join my pen pal program (it’s totally free!) 

Another great place with a huge pen pal community is Instagram! Just search the hashtag #penpalswanted (a few other popular hashtags are #penpalsearch and #penpalcommunity) and scroll through until you find someone that looks interesting to chat with! While you’re there, find me @fluentthewriteway!

Have you ever had a pen pal? Would you be interested in a language letter exchange now, even in our super fast, digitally connected world? Let me know in the comments below. 

Happy writing!

Jesse

Published by Jesse Albatrosov

English teacher + language lover helping foreign language learners master the English language through creative writing exercises and engaging conversation!

4 thoughts on “The benefits of having a language pen pal

    1. Hi, there! I’m currently only doing letter exchanges for English learners, but I would consider looking at resources like Hello Talk or even a language exchange partner on italki! You can sign up for an italki account (it’s free) and just use it to find language partners instead of tutors. I would be happy to chat via email in English though! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No worries! 🙂 I have had really good luck with finding language friends on italki (I sometimes have to hide my profile because I have too many language exchanges going on!) so I’d definitely check there.

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