If you ask anyone about the main benefits of learning a foreign language, a lot of the time you hear about how great it is to talk to someone from a different culture in their own language. Although there are obviously many and different reasons to become fluent in a second language, a free exchange of ideas with another person ranks high on the list. But this free exchange of ideas doesn’t happen overnight – it takes patience and commitment. So, how would you start getting conversation practice before you feel comfortable in speaking a foreign language?
Confidence is important but not everything
Be sure to read this excellent article by our teacher Lilliana on how to start speaking English with confidence – although that particular article is about learning English, the truths written there are universal and can help you with any language. The harsh reality is that confidence is a big aspect in language learning and having it will help you improve faster. But even if you don’t feel comfortable speaking your target language yet, there are still ways you can build up your confidence and pave your way towards speaking in your target language.
Make language exchange work for you
This is one of the easiest free ways of getting more comfortable in speaking your target language. Language exchange means you connect with someone who’s trying to improve their skills in your native tongue. Although language exchange can sound terrifying if you don’t feel comfortable, there are ways you can make it work for you. Sign up to talk to people who are already advanced in your language and would like to do most of the talking. This will help you become more familiar and comfortable with them before starting talking yourself.
Talk to yourself
Speaking with other people can feel scary at first, so start with someone you feel completely comfortable around – yourself. You can practice dialogues in your head and try to imagine different real-life situations. Although there won’t be anyone to correct you in this, it is still a useful tactic to get you started. If you start imagining what sentences you might need to order a coffee and a cake, you will also see what vocabulary you might be lacking and what to improve next.
Focus on the vital
If you live in a country where your target language is spoken, you are in luck. You can learn only a few important sentences, around 250 words you can’t live without, and start practicing with them in situations where much talking won’t be expected from you, i.e. ordering a coffee and cake (and you will be rewarded with cake for your courage!).
Even if you don’t ever leave your homeland, you still have plenty of options to start practicing slowly. Check your local Meetup or Couchsurfing groups – these are communities where travellers and/or language learners like to congregate and you might just be able to find someone to practice with.
Although native speakers can give you an insight into their language that can be hard to substitute at the later stages of your learning process, they can be rather intimidating at first. Trying to understand the rapidly spoken native French or Spanish can be confusing at best and intimidating at worst. So, feel free to get started with someone who is non-native and maybe also just starting out. Although you’ll both be making mistakes, that is far less important than building up your confidence at this point.
The most important part of increasing your language practice is to make sure you stick with it. If you like feeling absolutely certain about what you say, simply memorise sentences and only use them in a context where you feel safe. If you tend to be more adventurous, start using a combination of the techniques listed above and just enjoy the process of becoming more fluent by the day.