Yes, you study your vocab, you crammed in the grammar, but let’s be honest, ‘that doesn’t mean you know how to speak it.
‘Practice speaking in a foreign language is one of the most crucial parts of language learning.
If you’ve ever been to a language school, you might have heard your teacher only use your target language. The reason behind that is that you are supposed to ‘pick up the language as a child would do.’ Children learn without even understanding the concept of grammar. They don’t realize that they are fed new words and are fearlessly soaking in one word after the other.
Once we are over that phase, once we grasp that there are ‘words and expressions our brain should remember,’ we stop simply absorbing those words. Once we become aware of ‘making mistakes,’ we put an end to throwing around with funny words that aren’t quite correct. We obediently study vocab from the books and try to get the grammar right.
What we often realize too late is that we aren’t actively using our vocabulary by speaking the foreign language. This goes so far that we go on vacation, only to stand in front of a barista, trying to get these words out, these sentences that we ‘should know’ and ‘learned at some point.’ That is the moment when most of us wish they had practiced speaking with someone. But ‘I don’t have anyone to practice speaking with!!!’.
This is the easy way out of this dilemma. It is what it is, right?
Well, if you want to stay where you’re at with your skills, yes. On the other hand, there are so many ways to find native speakers or anyone who knows the language a little (I’ll explain why this makes sense later on).
Anyway, I don’t want you to get stuck at this point of ‘not having anyone to practice with.’
Globalization and technology have made it so much easier to find a so-called language exchange partner and I’d like to show you how.
First, you should think of whether you’d like to pay for finding a tutor, class, or teacher. I’m assuming that’s not why you’re reading this, even though they can be great ways to practice your speaking and I use them regularly!
What is another way?
How about finding a tandem partner or a language exchange partner? These are people who want to learn and practice a language themselves. You could offer your native language (or a language you’re highly skilled at speaking) in exchange for practicing with that person in their mother tongue.
Meet in person or online
The idea behind this would be that when you meet in person at a café to practice, you speak in each respective language for the same amount of time, e.g. 30 minutes in English and 30 min in Portuguese. That way, both parties benefit from practicing a language and help someone out at the same time by offering your own skills.
Where would you find a person to meet in person?
I would search for them in Facebook groups. Those could be student groups, or maybe your city even has a tandem or language exchange group. You could also google ‘French speakers in Barcelona’ or something like that. You could then join that group and post about wanting to find a language partner.
Another option would be people on Couchsurfing. There are so many more ways to use the site than just staying at someone’s place or hosting a traveler. I have made many friends through the website. Many people on there speak several languages. You could try and find someone who’s either staying in your hometown or passing through to meet up and practice language exchange.
The easiest would be if you are studying or working in an international circle. In that case, you could simply ask one of your fellow students or coworkers. Those are your options for meeting people face-to-face.
Try these apps!
Another way to find language exchange partners is through apps or websites that specifically cater to that (seriously, isn’t there an app for everything these days?). This means you don’t have to meet up in person to carry out a language exchange but can connect with someone from the comfort of your home.
One of the apps that works with this concept is Tandem. You will create a profile, stating the languages you speak, and can then choose which ones you would like to practice. The app will then show you possible ‘matches,’ and you can contact the people. Don’t hesitate to start texting in a foreign language. The app comes with translation and transcription features of the chat messages so that you will be able to communicate smoothly. You will be able to correct each other’s’ chat messages so that you get feedback right away.
Another app that works that way is called HelloTalk. It works similarly as Tandem and is rated just as high. I’ve heard good things from both apps. Personally, I’ve been using Tandem for about a year now and have been very satisfied with it. I recommend you check out either, to see what works for you.
Both apps have pretty large communities, so you should be able to find a language partner.
My own experience in how to practice speaking
Lastly, I can give you one other piece of advice: When I was in high school, my best friend was really gifted with languages. We’d often chat in whichever language we felt like practicing speaking. It can really lower your fear of making mistakes as the other person isn’t necessarily a native speaker either, so both of you are practicing/learning. You will still learn, and it’s especially helpful to start using specific phrases that you are currently studying and by noticing each other’s mistakes. You might be able to get a lot corrected between the levels of the two of you!
I also did that when I was traveling, especially in Australia. I was determined to become fully fluent in English. Whenever I met another German, I told them that I was only going to speak English to them. Many of them went with it, and we spoke English 100% of the time. I wouldn’t mix the languages as that would be weird. With some of these friends, I speak English to this day. I’m so used to hearing them speak English, and they seem like a different person in German to me.
When all else fails
And when all else fails – you can always talk to your cat or dog or even your favorite plant! (yes, I’m serious!!!). They won’t respond back to you, but you will feel at ease talking to them. (They might even learn to respond to your commands – I once had an American student who started speaking German to his cat!)
You can also think in the language that you want to practice. It is an option that I have used a lot. Having said that, I still believe that speaking words out loud works a lot better than letting them pass through your brain in silence. It can help you get more used to having the language in your life. And your mouth starts getting used to actually producing those foreign sounds.
Find what works for you
There are a ton more apps and websites to help you find your language exchange partner. From personal experience, I believe no one will fit all. You have to do your research to find the app/website that fits your needs.
Happy language learning 😊