So here is the scene. I’ve been kindly invited to a party by one of my English-speaking friends and I feel I am making my usual impressions to her amigos as the shy boy in the corner who doesn’t say anything. This is an odd feeling for me because I usually really enjoy talking to different people but tonight my Spanish skills are letting me down and I just can’t.
I pour another drink, smiling and nodding at any questions that come my way, hoping that ‘yes’ is an appropriate answer and they don’t require something more.
Soon my glass is empty and I think about filling it again, giving me something to do. Suddenly all the conversations I’m hearing not only make a bit of sense, but I feel I have words to contribute! Before long I’m saying things I didn’t realise I knew, and I am in disbelief that I am speaking Spanish. This is of course what it feels like to me, it could in truth not make much sense but the great thing is I don’t care and I am reassured as they are responding to me, meaning an actual conversation in Spanish is happening!
By the end of the evening I have met some great people and my confidence in speaking Spanish is sky high, for a couple of days.
This effect does make sense. Although the best way to learn and practice speaking a language is just to do it, the fear of embarrassment can be pretty restricting. A party atmosphere gets rid of this and frees you up to practice what you know and learn things you don’t. This kind of environment also gives a pretty good insight in how to get better at speaking a foreign language without alcohol.
Firstly, I am no language expert. Spanish is the first language I am attempting to learn and I have only been learning it seriously since the end of last year. Most advice is just to speak more. If you’re like me this isn’t too helpful as that is exactly what I feel I can’t do but here are some ways that have helped me and can make it easier.
A great thing to do is find some people who you can become comfortable speaking with. For me the family I live with is perfect as they always talk to me in Spanish and don’t speak a word of English, which means anything I can say in Spanish is going to be better than nothing. They are very kind and I know them well enough to no longer be embarrassed. An environment like this is perfect as it means you have to communicate with what you do know, your friends can then help you out along the way. It surprising how little language you need to know to communicate something and this can be really encouraging.
I have found that there are so many people and groups who want to practice their English with you. Find these groups or people and meet up, it can be a bit of an intimidating thought if you don’t know any one but it is really worth it. At first you don’t have to speak anything but English and as you get to know people and feel more comfortable you will find that before long you are practising your new language without forcing it. When you know everyone is learning you feel a lot better about it.
Get a little notebook to write down new words and phrases. For me, a lot of what I hear is new to me but I have found that when I hear a new word or phrase, that is useful to me, I write it down and it helps me learn it. Also anything I would like to say, but don’t know how, I can find out and write in the notebook. Now I have a pretty useful dictionary of common words and phrases that I find myself using or needing to use often.
Finally living in a country where they speak the language you are trying to learn is so helpful. It’s amazing how many things you pick up from hearing others or seeing in your daily life. It creates a reason for you to learn and it’s easy to see the progress you are making just going about your daily life.
Learning a language can be pretty tough, at times you will feel real progress. You will soon be confident enough, when asked by a native speaker do you speak Spanish, to answer “yes, a bit” only to be knocked right back as you listen to a beautiful stream of incomprehensible noise that leaves you silent.
It takes a lot of time so don’t give up. Keep at it and if you’re ever feeling really bad just get yourself along to a party!