1. Connect with real-life friends.
The internet is cool and all, but sometimes it’s helpful to have friends in the outside world.
Think about who you know. Ask friends and family members if they know anyone who might be interested in language exchange. Do you have a friend who is a native speaker? Distant Spanish-speaking relatives living abroad? A cultural exchange family from that time you visited Chile in high school? Set up a bimonthly Skype date and kill two birds with one stone: maintain your relationships and practice Spanish.
You can also explore your network and reach outside your first degree connections. Make social media profiles do the heavy lifting for you by updating your Facebook status or sending a Tweet. Let people know that you are learning Spanish and are looking for a conversation partner! It can be much nicer to speak to someone with whom you have a personal connection.
2. Stalk your Facebook friends to find other Spanish learners.
If you’re a dedicated Facebooker, and everyone you’ve ever met since middle school (and their mother) is currently your friend, well, today is your day to shine. Sign up for Duolingo.
This free language learning website uses fun games to integrate language learning into your daily routine. The best feature is that it syncs up with your Facebook network. This means that you can see who else in your network is on Duolingo and learning Spanish. While conversing with a non-native speaker is admittedly not ideal, it can helpful for beginning language learners by removing the anxiety. Your conversation partner will bungle things up just as much as you do, so everyone can remain at ease.
3. Talk to strangers.
I know your mom told you not to do this, but that was way back in kindergarten. You’re a grown-up now, and there’s a whole world-wide web out there full of potential conversation partners. More importantly, language exchange websites are designed with your safety in mind. Here are some language exchange websites that come highly recommended:
A real up-and-comer, this rapidly growing language exchange website has what is arguably the friendliest, most fun-loving network of language learners. Aside from conversational language exchange, this site lets you play educational games in teams with other language learners. How cool is that?
Sign up for the adorable cartoon bird on the homepage, stay for the high quality language learning experience. This site offers you learning materials such as vocabulary lists and talking topics, as well as a fantastic network of eager exchange partners.
My Language Exchange
This site goes above and beyond the traditional language exchange via video or audio chat. They also have games, forums, chat rooms for practice via text and a “pen pal” email exchange program. You can even sit in a on live group language exchange to get a feel for the dynamic. You can do it all for free! However, without paying for monthly membership you’ll have to wait for other people to reach out and invite you to chat.
4. Keep an eye on the time.
The golden rule of language exchange is that the experience should be mutually beneficial for you and your partner. Set up a defined amount of time for conversation. Dedicate exactly half of that time to one language, and the other half to the other language. It is bad manners to go over the allotted time for one language. If you do so, be sure to compensate fairly by adding a few extra minutes onto the time destined for the other language.
5. Get into the zone.
By now you’re probably more used to reading, writing, and taking notes than conversing with another human for language learning. Remember that language exchange time is best used to improve speaking and comprehension skills. Jotting down notes about newly learned vocabulary is alright in moderation, but don’t let note-taking distract you from the conversation at hand.
Another key to mastering Spanish speaking is to remember: the less you think, the better you’ll speak. You may also be tempted to keep a Spanish cheat sheet near the computer screen. When you’re just starting it can be nerve-wracking to imagine flying solo. However, conversation reinforces knowledge by drawing on the information already stored in your brain. Be assured, there is information logged away in there. When you stop obsessing over how to say the right thing, it will come to you easier. Consider yourself a baby bird that needs a nudge out of the nest to realize that its wings work just fine.
6. Pay attention.
It is a very common mistake to ignore what you’re partner is saying so you can focus on devising your next brilliant sentence. Suddenly you’ll realize that, while you were brainstorming, they asked you a question and you haven’t the foggiest idea how to answer. Remember that to become fluent conversationally it is critical for you to develop both speaking and listening skills.
7. Grow a thick skin.
Typically, conversation partners are aware of your language level and are very supportive because they, like you, are stumbling through a new language. Even so, “my language partner laughed out me, I must sound like a fool” is one of the many self-deprecating thoughts that plagues the minds of new Spanish speakers during conversation time. Rid your mind of this idea. Right now.
Maybe you said everything perfectly but your partner laughed because your accent sounded cute, you said something ironic, or you simply had great comedic timing.
On the other hand, maybe you did say something funny. Hey, you’ve got to accept that this happens. Learn to laugh at yourself and move on. Making silly mistakes is all part of the fun. If you want to know why they’re laughing, ask them politely if you said something ridiculous. Do this without becoming defensive – that’s way more likely to turn a conversation awkward than a few Spanish slip ups.
8. Take your time.
Spanish can be spoken quite rapidly. Even if you know what you want to say in Spanish, you probably find yourself tongue-tied when trying to say it at a native Spanish-speaker’s natural pace. It’s frustrating when your tongue can’t keep speed with your brain. If you end up stammering and stuttering through your sentences, this is a major sign that you’re getting ahead of yourself. Constantly speaking like this will wear you down, frustrate you, and make you feel incapable of speaking fluent Spanish. There’s one solution: slow down. Speak your sentences slowly, clearly, and enunciate every syllable with care. When you feel comfortable at a certain speed, push your limits and speed things up incrementally.
9. Liven things up!
Try to steer the conversation away from mindless small chat. Talk about things that get you excited. Look up some vocabulary about your favorite topics like movies, news, or soccer. Tell them about your deep dark secrets or most embarrassing moments. Of course, you may find yourself more limited if you are just beginning your Spanish language learning. That’s okay. Actually, that’s even better! From the get-go you will be motivated to develop a juicy vocabulary so you can delve into more interesting topics than the weather and what you ate for lunch.
10. Don’t forget that you give what you get.
Ultimately, it is up to you to make language exchange a valuable experience. If you enter conversations with a negative attitude or an unwillingness to speak, you are going to be disappointed with the outcome. By maintaining a positive attitude and booting up the webcam with a smile on your face, you are guaranteed to have a better conversation. This is a two-way street, friend! Be attentive, be friendly, and put forward a genuine interest in what your partner has to say. You never know when you may make a lifelong friend! Thanks to M. Stimola at frenchtoday.com!
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