This is super embarrassing to admit, but, when I was in college, I literally used to stalk East Asian(-looking) people; I’d even look through school phonebooks and other lists of names to find people from Japan. Before you call me an ethnically-biased stalker, remember that I effectively did it for you! I was like “I’m going to write a website about this one day, so I’d better take a hit for the team”. No, OK — I was looking for people to speak Japanese with. People’s whose Japanese I could listen to, and whom I could get to correct my Japanese.
Not much has changed since then. I’m still looking for Japanese friends (even though I live in Japan). But I’m not in college any more, so stalking could in fact have me acting out my own version of Prison Break…hmm, I could be Michael Scofield and C-Note rolled into one.
Back on topic. So there’s this site www.MyLanguageExchange.com. The color scheme isn’t about to win any awards, but that’s not what you go there for. It’s full of people who actually want to exchange languages — they will help you in your native language if you will help them with yours. The site isn’t limited to Japanese-English either, all kinds of languages and language combinations are welcome.
There is a catch — the site is free for passive use (i.e. just waiting for other people to contact you), but if you want to actively contact other users, then it’s US$6 for a one-month “Gold Membership”. I hate spending money, but, it was kind of worth it for a websiteful of native speakers of Japanese who don’t have to be stalked. The people there want to be contacted; they want to help and to be helped; they generally aren’t casual or half-hearted about it, so you will get replies to your messages (and then, of course, you can continue your friendship via email, voice chat, phone or whatever).
Especially if you’re away from universities or Japanese communities, for building a network of Japanese friends MyLanguageExchange.com is pretty durn good. By the way, if you know of any other reliable (and hopefully free) websites like this that actually work, feel free to let me and everyone else know.