One common question I hear – and that I’ve faced – is: How do I get people to talk to me in Spanish? (Or Japanese, German, or whichever language you’re learning).
I’ve experimented with several techniques, and annoyed many people into speaking with me in Japanese, Spanish and German. Here are four sneaky ways I’ve found to recruit unsuspecting practice partners.
For the examples below, let’s pretend your partner speaks Spanish, and that’s what you’re learning. (Spanish could be replaced with any language, and your partner could be replaced with anyone you see often – a friend, colleague, family member, whoever).
1. Tell them something you learned today.
After learning lots of juicy Spanish tidbits from podcasts, I would tell my Spanish-speaking wife one thing I learned every day. It could be a concept, it could be a sentence, or even one word. The volume doesn’t matter: it shows your partner what you can, and cannot yet, talk about.
If you learnt how to talk about going to the beach, tell them “Guess what I learnt today? Quieres ir a la playa este fin de semana conmigo?” (Want to go to the beach with me this weekend?).
From then on, she’ll know you understand how to talk about going to the beach, and next time, maybe she’ll ask you in Spanish, because she knows you understand. Repeat.
2. Pick a specific time to speak the language.
It could be every day at lunchtime between 12-1pm, every Wednesday all day, or for 20 minutes during dinner each night – it doesn’t matter when, but if you can set it up that way, you can practice without being too overwhelmed. Even reluctant partners will likely agree to this – if the conversations are still tough because you’re just getting started, make it short. Then increase the time as you get better.
3. Choose certain situations to speak the language
We talk to our cats in Spanish (weird!). We usually revert to Spanish when we speak over the phone. It could also be at breakfast time, after the movies, or when you’re shopping, but try to choose certain situations where you’ll practice your target language. Creating familiar circumstances helps make it easier to slip into second-language mode.
Especially when starting out, having long conversations in your target language can be tough going: for you, and for whoever you’re speaking with. If you can challenge yourself with long, in-depth conversations, I’m all for that: but I’ve found that gradually increasing your practice time is better than the ‘try-lots-at-once-and-then-give-up’ strategy. Short, frequent burts of practice can really help you use what you’ve learned, help others understand that you’re able to manage conversations, and get you speaking incrementally more.
Question: What techniques have you used to convince others to speak with you in your target language?
Photo credit: young_einstein