Creating Opportunities To Speak: Cold-Calling

Speaking Opportunities

Note: This is fun but it’s not free. I suggest using Skype credit rather than your home or mobile phone as it’s much cheaper. At the time of this writing many countries can be called using Skype for about 2¢ per minute (others are a little higher).

Don’t go running your phone bills up though and then blaming me for it. :)

This little exercise is for people learning a foreign language at home and looking for more opportunities to practise.


Be creative!

Part of being a good learner is coming up with creative ways to overcome challenges and one major challenge for a lot of people is finding opportunities to practise new target language content.

One thing I used to do a lot with Arabic was target language cold-calling.

Sure you can use sites like LiveMocha, Busuu and italki to connect with native speakers for conversation practise (if you’re lucky enough to find a willing language exchange partner that is) but what about when you’ve just covered a specific topic and want to put it to use straight away but aren’t able to?

Let’s say for example that you spent a study period learning all about how to book accommodation or how to hire a bicycle in your target language.

Unless you’re abroad chances are you won’t get an opportunity to use that language so it tends to be forgotten easily. There is a fun way to practise the new content immediately using Skype and it only costs a buck or two.


How much for bike rental?

Spend some time going over new phrases and vocabulary relating to a specific product or service (e.g. renting a bike or inquiring about a guest room). You might choose to hone in on something specific like the size of the rooms or asking about the cost of renting a bike for a day.

Google “yellow pages” + your target language country (Georgia, Ireland, China, etc.) and usually the first Google search result will show you the business directory of the country (each country also has other directories but Yellow Pages is a good starting point).

Georgian Yellow Pages:
Yellow Pages Tbilisi Georgia


Irish Golden Pages:

Spiddal Ireland

Gather a short list of a few businesses and their telephone numbers, and call each of them asking a prepared list of questions about their products or services.

Let them know that you’re calling from overseas and apologize in advance for not understanding everything. Once they know you’re calling from abroad they’ll be curious as to why you called them specifically and you’ll probably make their ordinary, mundane day at work a little more interesting! :)

It’s great if you have a genuine query too. Instead of using Google to find out certain information consider taking the old-fashioned approach and making a few phone inquiries to get some practise.

Phone conversations are lot more challenging than face-to-face chats so make sure to record the Skype call so you can study it afterwards!

There are plenty of programs available for doing this such as Skype Call Recorder (Linux), Ecamm (Mac) and Pamela (Windows).

A simple, minute long exchange with a stranger over the phone will get you using vocabulary that you’d otherwise quickly forget or never get a chance to use.


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Reflecting On My Progress With Irish Over The Last 6 Months

Time flies.

Donovan NagelAlmost exactly six months ago I announced my plans to learn Gaeilge on my own using online resources with no prior knowledge of the language at all.

This is the first minority language that I’ve ever attempted to learn and despite my initial frustration with finding resources I can now say that there is actually more than enough available for Gaeilge in comparison with many other minority and endangered languages (I reviewed one such resource here).

Online conversational materials for indigenous Australian languages are virtually non-existent for example (something I’d like to help change in future).

My original plan with Irish was to only use completely free websites to teach myself but I broke this rule and went ahead and bought a few books which helped immensely.

Three months after my announcement I uploaded this video and recieved some really great feedback and tips from native speakers. I haven’t received any discouraging comments which is great.

I’ll put together a 6 month progress video this week (time permitting) and post it to the Facebook and Google+ pages.


Build up your lexical ‘database’ so you’ve got something to work with

I know there are some people out there who have an input-only period of months or years in the beginner stage and won’t speak until they’re confident enough but in my opinion that’s excessively long.

It’s fine if you just want to be literate or translate documents but if you want to eventually speak the language then you really should find opportunities to practise early on.

In saying that, I like to keep an input/output ratio of 80:20 early on. It’s good to be spending most of your time listening (and reading) for comprehensible input but at the same time ensuring sufficient amounts of actual practice.

The reason why I put so much weight on input is because this is how you build up your mental ‘database’ of lexical chunks and vocabulary so that when you do actually speak you’ve got something to say.

Here’s an interesting quote just published in the Washington Post by Stephen Krashen (emphasis added):

Forcing language students to speak before they are ready not only makes them extremely uncomfortable but does nothing for language acquisition. Speaking doesn’t cause language acquisition; rather, the ability to speak is the result of comprehensible input.

There’s no possibility of having a creative, meaningful or opinionated chat about anything if you don’t have a lexical well to draw from so to speak.


Refine your speaking ability over time

So let’s say you take my advice and spend 80% of the time focused on input while ensuring sufficient speaking practise.

You understand a lot of what’s being said (the hardest language skill to master) but when you speak you’re a bit slow and your speaking skills aren’t really an accurate indicator of how much you do comprehend.

Even though you’ve got the vocabulary there to talk about most topics it takes a little while for you to actually say what you want, but regardless of how slow it is initially you can and do produce it eventually.

Hear me out:

Your conversational ability is far more likely to rapidly improve than a person who has had plenty of practise with basic introductory phrases and topics but has a severely limited lexical database to work with.

I was like this on my first trip to Egypt. I could introduce myself, talk about my family and so on with ease, and people would hear me and say “You speak Arabic really well!” Then they’d go on and start to talk about other topics of which I just couldn’t participate in. They quickly saw that I knew how to say a few things really well but beyond that I knew hardly anything.

I didn’t have sufficient language to join in any further.

Now, had I of applied this 80:20 listening/speaking ratio in the 6-12 months leading up to this I would have had a lot more to say even if it was slow and broken – the language would have been there in my mind for me to retrieve and use.

You can’t retrieve words and phrases from your memory if they aren’t there to start with.

Speed/fluidity in speech is something that comes over time but it’s even better if you’ve actually got lexical content to drawn on.


The wonderful feeling you get when you notice progress

Since the very first day I started on this challenge to learn Irish I’ve been religiously watching a soapy called Ros Na Rún on the TG4 website.

I’m almost ashamed to say it but I’m addicted to this show now! :) You normally couldn’t pay me to watch shows like this in English but I’m now checking the site frequently for new episodes.

I’ve also watched this brilliant four-part series called No Béarla (No English) dozens and dozens of times:

Anyway I had this moment two weeks ago while I was listening and taking notes where I suddenly realized that my level in Irish had reached a new and very exciting level. I noticed that I was following parts of these and other series without resorting to the subtitles and things were just feeling more natural to me.

It’s a wonderful feeling.

So I decided to test myself by trying to talk about a few random topics and I noticed that although I was still slow and choppy I was able to recall much of what I’ve learned even though I’ve not yet had a chance to use it.

It just confirmed for me what I already believed to be the case which is that input more than anything else determines progress.

I know that when I arrive in the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking regions of Ireland), even if my speech is a bit sloppy and unrefined, I’ll have a wealth of language to work with already.

Finally, I thought I’d post this insightful video that Steve Kaufmann put up in reference to his own progress with Czech where he used a clever snowball analogy:

Eventually we have to speak and when we speak, we struggle. But the bigger your snowball, the more words you have, the more you understand, the more comfortable you are with different aspects of the language – the better you’re going to do when you start to speak.



Make sure to check out the Washington Post article mentioned above here: The Wrong And Right Way To Learn A Foreign Language.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below and make sure to share this around! :)


This was written by .

Do you use StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest or Digg? A quick upvotelikepin or digg will make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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