When should you have your first conversation in your new language? This is a question we get quite often. The short answer to this question is: “the sooner the better”. In fact, you are probably ready to have your first conversation right now. As soon as you know very basic words and phrases you should try to have a simple conversation, even if it includes a few mimes. A lot of language experts agree that this is the way to go. However, we also believe that it can be nice to study the language for a few weeks before you take the leap. It tends to make first conversations a lot more enjoyable, more stable, and more interesting than if you study for only a few days. Just don’t wait an eternity. Pushing it back for months or years until you are “truly ready” is a huge mistake. The fact is that you will never be entirely ready. You’ll only be ready when you take the decision to go for it. Sure, you will make plenty of mistakes, but that’s awesome, because it means you’re learning.
The first conversation can be very short; see it as a way to break the ice. First conversations are totally nerve-racking, there’s no need to stretch it too long. After a few conversations, you’ll start feeling comfortable with asking questions when you don’t understand. You’ll learn to take your time to find your words to respond, and you’ll be okay with making mistakes along the way. Learning in a safe environment is optimal, that’s why it’s nice to find people dedicated to help you learn.
When the goal of the conversation is improving your speaking skills, you should not feel rushed. Normal conversations are usually quick and we want to get our point across as fast as possible, but it doesn’t need to be this way. If you don’t know a word, simply pause and think about it. You can have Google translate set up on your mobile device to find words when you are really stuck. When you don’t understand something the person says, ask them to type it in. Written material is often much easier to understand. It’s important to feel comfortable with these things. Not being afraid of making mistakes is one of the greatest qualities a language learner can possess. Find ways to be entirely okay with not being perfect. Research has shown that when you are calm, you learn better and conversations flow much more easily.
There aren’t many things more satisfying than having a genuine conversation entirely in a different language. Even if the first conversation is short and you feel anxious, you will feel amazing and rewarded after it. The shot of dopamine will push you to keep going. You can learn a lot from a computer program, from reading, from watching movies, but you might only get that exhilarating feeling from actual conversations. After all, it’s when the efforts truly pay off. The rewarding feeling will also make you want to study and practice the language even more, because you will want to improve for the next conversation. After the initial conversation, your brain will temporarily be rewired in your new language. You’ll remind yourself of the conversation and what you could have said differently. Having real conversations is an incredible part of the language learning process, don’t deprive yourself of this.
After the first conversation, make sure to include regular sessions in your learning schedule. Obviously, the more the better, but consistency is key. Decide on the number of weekly conversations you will have and keep at it, even if it’s only once a week, or even twice monthly. Make sure you include it in your routine. Speaking practice is by far the most stressful aspect of language learning, but after you learn to cope with this language anxiety, it’s also one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences. In the previous posts, we talked about ways you can find speaking partners on the web. In the next post, we will talk about how you can find people in your own city.
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