So you’ve amassed and conquered stacks and stacks of books in your target language, listened to all the songs on your favorite foreign-language playlist and even managed to maintain a volley of text message back-and-forths with a new friend of yours who doesn’t speak your native tongue. Reading, listening, writing in your new language — you’ve got them down! But if you’ve struggled to find ways to actually practice speaking a new language, you’re not alone.
Whether it’s foreign language anxiety that’s holding you back or a lack of opportunity to get feedback on spontaneous, real-time speech, it can be hard to get out there and start actually producing language in real-life contexts. We’ve made a list of a few ways you can actually practice speaking a new language when you find yourself wanting to flex those vocal cords in an actual conversation.
Ways To Practice Speaking A New Language
Okay, we know that you probably cringe when you hear your own voice on audio playback. It’s a natural human phenomenon, and we do it, too. Is that really what my voice sounds like? Do people really put up with my nasally tone?
But don’t be so hard on yourself. The sound of your voice isn’t annoying. And if you can stand to listen to them, recordings of yourself are among the most powerful resources you have for mastering speaking in a new language — especially your pronunciation and the rhythms and intonations that are unique to the language. You can find countless examples of native speakers on sites like YouTube and in foreign language podcasts.
Use your phone’s built-in microphone — or a more professional one if you have it — to capture your voice as you produce speech in your learning language. Listen back to yourself reading out of a book, for example, or just improvising a monologue about what happened to you that day. Each time you listen, make a note of what doesn’t sound right and keep re-recording until it does. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll make progress when you can hear the errors you make played back to you.
Make Friends With Native Speakers
Language learning is inherently social; after all, you don’t pick up a new tongue just to sit in your bedroom scrolling through your phone or staring at a textbook all day. It makes sense, then, that having a conversation with a real person should be the goal of any language-learning journey — and it’s the best way to practice speaking a new language!
There aren’t many downsides to making a new friend — you get someone to rely on, a shoulder to cry on, a partner in adventure (and in gossip, too). When it comes to language learning, making friends with a native speaker of your target language lets you have the expertise of a teacher without the stress of sitting in a classroom setting.
Making friends who speak another language doesn’t have to be as daunting as it might seem, and the good news is that you don’t even have to leave your home to do it. If you don’t already have access to a new friend, you can join a language meetup group of other learners in your community or find a pen pal who’s willing to chat with you over the phone or on a video call once a week or once a month. Often times, this will mean switching halfway through so they can practice your native language. That way, it’s a win-win!
Engage With A Place Of Business
During normal, times when the world isn’t practicing social distancing, your options are plentiful when it comes to finding places of business to practice speaking. The most obvious example that comes to mind is a restaurant where the wait staff is full of native speakers of the language you’re learning. It’s the perfect place to put to good use all that vocabulary you’ve learned about ordering food and drinks, and even how to make small talk with basic greetings and pleasantries. Restaurants from around the world aren’t often difficult to come by, especially if you’re in dense, urban areas or places with high populations of immigrants. But make sure to ask the people about the language, because launching into a language you assume someone speaks can be insulting in certain situations.
Suggestions like these seem to work best if you’re not practicing responsible social distancing — like when there’s not a global pandemic going on, for example. But if you’re isolating yourself at home, you can still put your speaking skills to good use. Many restaurants are still open for takeout and delivery, meaning conversational practice is only a phone call away.
But the possibilities don’t end there. Any place of business, any local joint, any spot around town that sells goods and services can be a prime opportunity for you to flex your speaking skills and get insight and critiques from native speakers — whether or not you’re physically in the store or just calling to get more information about a product from the safety of your self-isolation.
When pandemic panic is over and it’s time to emerge from your home to be around people again, be sure to pay these places of business a visit. And you can even volunteer at a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter or another hub of activity that lets you use your language learning for social good.
Getting to know native speakers around town isn’t mutually exclusive with the “make friends” tip above; in fact, you might find that in your repeated trips to your favorite French bistro or local farmers market or phone calls to your local Mexican restaurant that you end up building new relationships with the people there along the way.