You’ve been practicing a new language for a while, and now you’ve met someone who is willing to be your practice partner. He or she is a native speaker, and has suggested that you meet for coffee once a week to speak the language together.
Your lessons have been going well and you are confident, but the session left you feeling discouraged.
What happened? And what can you do to make future sessions better?
There is a good chance that your practice partner (albeit with good intentions) hurt your confidence by stopping to correct you every time you made the slightest mistake.
I was once laughed at repeatedly by a Romanian guy who was trying to teach me to say a word. He’d say it, then I’d say the exact same thing, but he was sure it laughably incorrect. I’ve had the same experience with various other languages.
While they may be trying to help, it really just makes you feel like you’ll never be able to get by in this language, and forever sound funny or weird, which is not a good self-image to have while learning to speak a new language.
So what can be done? Try this:
Tell your practice partner (in English) before the session, that you know you have a lot of work to do in this language, and that you feel it would help to get to hear the language more. So you have prepared a list of questions in the target language that you would like to ask.
The begin to ask these pre-prepared questions, such as ‘How are you?’, ‘How was your day?’, ‘What did you do?’, and any other question you’d like to ask. Just listen to your partner’s responses. We’ll call this your INPUT practice, or listening practice.
As your partner responds, practice guessing what they’re saying. You can do this through keywords, and assumption. For the occasional learning moment, ask ‘What does that mean’ in the target language, and take a few notes. But try not to make it too much about learning, or the conversation will end – the goal is to keep the conversation going!
When it’s your turn to respond to a question (OUTPUT), rely on simple answers that you also prepared when you wrote your questions.
If your partner asks a follow-up question and you understand the question, then answer it. If you do not understand the question, then use it as a learning moment and ask ‘What does that mean?’ in the target language, and take a note. Then answer the question. If you need a word or to to answer, have another learning moment by asking ‘How do you say …?’ in the target language, and take a note.
The entire algorithm looks like this:
1. Ask a question.
2. Listen and practicing guessing the meaning through keywords and assumption.
3. Learning moment – ask ‘What does ___ mean?’ in the target language; take a note.
1. Answer in a simple, prepared way.
2. Wait for a follow-up question, or go back to step 1. of INPUT and ask a question.
3. If there is a follow-up question and you understand it, answer.
4. If you don’t understand, ask ‘What does that mean?’ and take a note.
5. Once you understand, answer.
6. If need be, ask ‘How do you say ___?’, and take a note.
A real-like example might go like this:
YOU: How are you?
THEM: Good. You?
YOU: Good. How was your day?
THEM: Good, but really busy, a lot going on at work. Yours?
YOU: Good too, thanks. What did you do?
THEM: I worked all day, and after that started getting ready for the party.
YOU: What does “party” mean?
THEM: “Party” means party.
YOU: Thank you.
THEM: What did you do today?
YOU: I went to work, then had lunch, and then took a lesson.
THEM: Nice! What did you have for lunch?
YOU: How do you say “chicken”?
THEM: “Chicken” is “chicken”.
YOU: I had chicken for lunch.
1. Prepare your questions.
2. Prepare your answers.
3. Ask a lot of questions.
4. Take a few notes.
5. Repeat often!