An intercambio is a language exchange partner. Someone who is looking to improve their English (or whatever your native language is) in exchange for helping you to improve your Spanish. The best way to improve at something is to do it, so it is vital to practice actually speaking the language. It works very simply. You meet up somewhere not too noisy and you talk together, for half of your time in Spanish, then switching to English.
An intercambio provides a way for you to practice your Spanish in a natural and informal setting, also offering insights into the culture and customs of the local people. Secondly, they can help motivate you to keep learning by providing a real-life reason to use the language on a regular basis. It’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes when learning a new language, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. A good language exchange partner will be patient and understanding, and will want to help you improve your skills. Once you both get over your initial shyness and a connection is formed, speaking freely to someone for an extended period of time is a fantastic way to build your confidence in speaking and understanding Spanish.
During my first, blissful months in Barcelona when I had no steady job and not much money to spend, I filled up my days with meeting intercambios for coffees and having long conversations about whatever. This habit has dropped away recently with work commitments taking more of my time. But today was a public holiday in Spain, so I called a friend of mine who started off as an intercambio, and we met for a good 90 minute chat over coffee and great Ensaïmadas. This is a secondary benefit of meeting intercambios. There’s a good chance they will turn into friends, and if you are living or studying in a foreign country friends are something you really need.