The Mezzofanti Guild Language Learning Made Simple

Language Learning And Social Risk-Taking Part 2: Talk!


G’day all. 🙂

If you didn’t read the post I wrote on being a social risk-taker a while back then you should check it out because what I’m about to say will reinforce what I said.

This will be a short, simple point but hopefully a hard-hitting one.

I’m on a constant mission here in this country to never allow myself to get comfortable by always implementing new strategies that raise the bar on improving this language (having my deadline gives it more of a sense of urgency too).

Comfort is not a good thing.

Today I’ve been reflecting on the one non-negotiable, absolutely necessary exercise that you can’t skip if you hope to become a fluent speaker of a foreign language:

Talking.

Now before you brush this off as an obvious point, read on!

 

Put fear aside and talk constantly

Of course, talking isn’t really a method or a strategy.

We all have the same goal which is to be able to talk, understand what we hear and to a lesser extent be able to read and write. We all have different preferred ways to achieve this.

But the truth is no matter what avenue you take to get to the same destination, you eventually need to do a hell of a lot of actual conversation to get there – countless hours.

There’s no way around this so you might as well hit it hard now.

Talk to people frequently. Do it daily.

Use the hell out of that foreign language until it doesn’t feel foreign anymore (even if you only know a little).

 

Show yourself no mercy

I’m writing this short post in a cafe and it’s now 10:30pm in Korea.

I’d like to go home when this is done, kick back and watch a movie but I’m not allowed to – it’s out of the question because I haven’t talked enough in Korean today.

So when I finish this, I’m heading out to reach what I call my talk quota for the day, where I’ll deliberately and strategically use different parts of speech that I’ve learned during the week and my under-practised vocab.

I decided to make a challenging target of 10 quality conversations per day – that means putting my social risk-taking into serious action.

It entails going out of my way to either meet new people or practise unfamiliar content with people I already know.

Routine, familiar content doesn’t count.

 

But I’m not living in the country like you are

Where there’s a will, there’s almost always a way.

As well as the lessons I get here in Korea, I also take a few lessons a week via one of the most brilliant sites I’ve ever come across – italki.

The teachers I meet with each week through italki are phenomenal. I’ve learned so much from them in a short period of time and it’s almost criminal how cheap it is.

While there are so many other options for finding conversation partners as well, you can effortlessly organise time every day of the week with a community tutor or professional teacher on italki – many of them only charge a few bucks an hour.

This is only the best of many options (make an account here if you haven’t already).

Obviously if you have native speakers living in your community then there’s no excuse at all.

 

Stop avoiding the inevitable

Even if it’s broken, grammatically wrong and poorly pronounced – open your mouth and talk! Do it every day and remember that mistakes are necessary.

If you’re waiting to get everything right before you do talk, you’re going to be waiting for a long time.

 

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  1. "I’ll deliberately and strategically use different parts of speech that I’ve learned during the week and my under-practised vocab…if you're not in-country, iTalki!"

    Bingo, that is precisely what I do: you have to actually apply what you've learned by using it with native speakers, it's absolutely mandatory. There are several ways to do this: you can do it in writing with a penpal via a site like Lang-8 or a chat room, though doing it in a real-time face-to-face conversation is better, and frankly it doesn't matter if it's in-person or via Skype.

    What I do is take all the new Spanish I've learned that day, which I've noted in Anki and/or Evernote, and then get on a skype call with one of my language exchange partners (that I've typically met via iTalki, though to be clear I'm talking about fellow language-learners, not teachers, I don't pay for this at all, it's completely free) and then have a conversation with them where I make a point of using any new vocab or grammar that I've just learned that day. It really does wonders to cement those new words and concepts into your memory so that they become part of your on-demand skills in that language, something you can actually call on in the moment when you need them. Too many people "learn" some new aspect of a language and then later find they can't recall it later when in conversation with a native speaker–this is because you didn't force yourself to actually use it soon after learning it.

    You have to apply it, doing so is the ultimate memorization technique.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  2. I agree that using the language in conversation is soon after learning it is very important but this is easier said than done once you start getting higher level and dealing with less commonly talked about subjects or more abstract ideas. Any tips for exactly how to work such vocab into a conversation?

  3. Hey Donovan! Could you please elaborate on what "quality conversations" are?

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