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Lots of people think learning a language is a lonely process that is all about dry textbooks and memorizing phrases that you would never use in a real situation, but this is simply not the case! In fact, learning a language can be a very social (and fun) task if you know where to look.
It’s amazing how many people put off speaking in their target language because they don’t think they are ‘ready’. Chances are, you’re probably never going to be ready, so practicing getting your tongue around the intonation, accent, and sounds is something you should be doing from the start.
Yes, it can be daunting speaking to people who know the language so well; you might be scared that you won’t be understood, embarrassed that you’ll use the wrong word, or just plain frustrated if you can’t get your point across. In all honesty, you’ll probably feel all of these emotions at some point when chatting with a native-speaker, but that’s all part of the learning process. Once you realize that no one is going to laugh at you for trying and that there are many ways to get your point across, you’ll soon see your confidence blossoming as you learn from your mistakes and go from strength to strength.
If you’re not in a native-speaking country, though, it can be difficult to find people to talk with. If you live in a large enough town or city, though, there will be loads of people who will be willing to connect with you. If you are serious about getting sociable with your language learning, here are some ideas for you to try out.
The word “couch-surf” has become a well-known verb over the last couple of years as the act of couch-surfing has hit the big time. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a site that you can sign up to and pose your interest in accepting guests to stay on your sofa or to pose your interest in staying as a guest on others’ sofas. It is a great way to meet people, as hosts usually double-up as city guides and show you all the local hotspots. If you are visiting your target language’s native-speaking country, this is an invaluable tool to use, particularly if you want to get under the skin of the place. However, you can also use it for meeting people in your area and, with the in-depth search settings, can find people who speak your target language.
Study or Work Abroad
One of the best ways you can learn a language is to surround yourself with it all day, every day. This means spending an extended amount of time in a native-speaking country. Money or time might prove to be an issue for you, but there are usually solutions. Take working abroad, for example; not only will you meet native-speakers in your place of work, but you will be enhancing your career prospects at the same time. And studying abroad? Well, you’ll be meeting like-minded students, many of whom will be native speakers, and still gaining credits for your course and improving your resume at the same time.
Intercambio sessions refer to a meet up of people who speak two different languages. For example, you might come across a Spanish and English Intercambio evening where native Spanish speakers turn up to learn English and vice versa. The atmosphere tends to be very relaxed and casual, especially when the drinks start flowing, and it’s a great way to make native-speaking friends who you can then meet up with outside of the Intercambio session.
Festivals and other similar events related to the culture of your target language are a great way to semi-immerse yourself. Not only is it highly likely that a number of native-speakers will be there for you to get chatting to, but you can find out more about the customs, traditions, food, and arts of the culture, which ultimately helps you gain a better understanding of the language itself. These events might not be highly publicised in a non-native speaking country, but if you do some asking around and trawling on the internet, you will almost certainly be able to find somewhere that is celebrating.
Foreign films are a great (and fun) way to practice your target language. Take it a step further, though, and invite fellow language learners to join you for an evening of films. If you want, choose to watch it with English subtitles, but don’t rely on these too heavily; familiarize yourself with the way your target language sounds and the sentence structures instead. For an extra special touch, discuss the film afterwards without using any English.
Start a language group
There are loads of languages classes you can choose from where you can meet like-minded learners which are great for getting to grips with grammar and learning the technical details. In addition to this, you can set up your own language group that focuses on getting out and about and doing stuff related to your target language. Choose some fun activities to do, like going to a theme park or a museum, and remind everyone that English is banned for the duration.
In between language classes, you might want to arrange some one-on-one tutoring sessions with a native speaker so you can improve your conversational skills. A great way to do this is to find someone who wants to learn English and do a language exchange with them, where half of the lesson focuses on teaching you your target language and the other half centers on your partner and teaching them English.
Join a Book Club
Even if you’re not in your target language’s native speaking country, you should be able to find a book club with native-speakers in any large town or city. Doing this encourages you to read books in the language and then discuss them afterwards, much like the film evening concept.
The internet is one of the best ways to connect with native-speakers of your target language and like-minded learners. There are a multitude of online games and sites where you can find people who want to do a language exchange via Skype or other means. However, you can also follow a few feeds on Twitter that are in your target language, or you could connect with native speakers on Facebook and make an effort to interact with them, as well as read and comment on blogs that are written in your target language. By doing this, you are creating an online community that will be there to fall back on if you can’t find any native-speakers or learners to meet up with offline.
Fall in Love
This might seem like a joke, but falling in love with a native-speaker is one of the best (and most sociable!) ways to learn a language. There’s nothing more motivating than wanting to be able to interact with your beloved and their friends and family. Plus, you will have your own personal teacher every step of the way who can introduce you to the culture, traditions and, of course, other native speakers.
Author bio: Lizzie Davey writes for GEOS Languages Plus and other language school sites. Last year she went to learn Spanish in Spain, where she realized that language learning has to become a part of everyday life if you want to succeed. She writes about the language learning process and the things you can do to make it fun and easy.