In an ideal world, you would decide one day that you wanted to learn a language, then a few days later you would be perfectly fluent.
If only it was that simple!
It is so easy to have unrealistic expectations of how quickly you make progress when you begin learning a language. Sadly, it’s not possible to learn a language completely overnight, or even in a few weeks. Maybe if you are totally immersed in the language, or possess very good memory skills, you could learn a lot in a short space of time, but for most people learning a language takes hard work and dedication over a longer period.
We can agree that learning a language fluently can feel like an impossible task. However, speaking a language should definitely not feel like this! And starting speaking is one thing that is guaranteed to speed up your language acquisition process – and get you closer than ever to fluency.
In a recent study from language school Sprachcaffe, over 90% of the 2000 students studied said that they found interaction with other people to be the most useful resource for learning. This comes as no surprise to us here at Tandem, as we’ve long been advocates for getting people speaking in foreign languages!
Once, this was only an option for people who had the time and money to travel to their country of choice and practice with native speakers, or invest in a great teacher. Today, you can turn on your phone and be chatting to someone on the other side of the world in seconds. It is a great opportunity to improve speaking early on in the language learning journey without time or financial constraints.
So what benefits does speaking practice have for your language learning?
It helps build confidence
Without confidence, it will always be a struggle to make yourself understood clearly. The more you talk, the more you will get used to putting yourself out there. If you have more positive experiences when speaking your target language, you will quickly find speaking it a joy, rather than a stress.
You start seeing grammar in action
Textbooks are great for understanding the theory and “why” behind grammar rules. But hearing (and using) them in action is quite another thing. Many native speakers will be much more flexible with grammar rules than your textbook would suggest, and the only way to get used to this is by lots and lots of talking.
It is a chance to make mistakes… and learn from them
Many people get put off speaking because of a fear of making mistakes and looking a bit silly when they are in the early stages of language learning. Actually, mistakes can be very helpful if you want to learn quickly – but only if you are ready to learn from them! Asking your partner to only correct certain mistakes is a good way to take the pressure off and make sure your language practice is really focused on what you want to practice.
You get used to thinking on your feet
Learning phrases by rote can get some quick rewards. But what do you do when someone replies with a response you weren’t expecting? Getting speaking early on in your language learning journey helps you to get used to thinking quickly of a creative response, rather than churning out the same tired phrases. In the real world, you don’t have several minutes to think about the perfect response, so you need to practice in this environment as much as possible.
It gives you concrete evidence that you are improving
While many learn languages to pass exams or tests, many more learn them to communicate with other people. In a way, every successful conversation is a bit like passing an exam! Speaking with different people will show you how much you have improved, and what elements you need to focus on to keep progressing.
You start living the language, not just learning it
Why are you learning a language? Is it so you can say you read a textbook once? Or is it so you can use it in your job, or travel, or communicate with family and friends? Languages are for living, and the sooner you start living your language, the better. Finding people to communicate with and getting talking is the best way to make the language an important part of your life from day one!
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If there’s one piece of language learning advice to remember, it is to never pass up an opportunity to practice your skills – especially when you least expect to use them! You never know… it could end up getting you a bargain. Ndiya, a member of Tandem from Texas, USA, experienced this firsthand when she put her Spanish skills to the test. Here’s her story!