Have you ever thought about being able to communicate in a similar manner as you do in your native language? This is something I’m sure everyone learning languages (or at least those who want to be completely fluent in their target language) wants to ultimately accomplish, What is stopping us from doing so? It could be hyper-focused on needed to be perfect in your target language and needing to be mirror what a native speaker says exactly without any errors! I am totally guilty of this myself. That seems impossible when you’re at the beginning and intermediate levels in your target language. But what if you changed your focus on what you are currently learning (ex: Learning about what verb to conjugate or talking about how much you really like pizza.) to what is most important for you to learn.
Write Down Topics You Discuss On A Regular Basis
What do you like to talk about? What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies? What do you do an a regular basis even though you don’t enjoy doing it? What do you need to learn for a potential job/career that requires the use of the target languages? Take a moment to consider what you is being discussed on daily basis. Create a list of topics and use these topics to help you navigate conversations with like-minded native speakers in your target language(s). These will be incredibly useful if you use websites like italki, GoSpeaky or Verbling to practise learning languages. Having a topic to discuss ahead of time will make it so much easier for both you and your tutor/teacher to facilitate the conversation to your needs. Not to mention that there will be a lot less time wasted as a result.
Learn Vocabulary Thematically And With Pictures Whenever Possible
I found that if I can see what the word or phrase is describing visually that it is easier for me to retain the word easier. Of course, learning how it’s pronounced at the same time. There are dictionaries for (Affliate links!) Japanese, German, Spanish, Arabic, French, Italian, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, 5 Languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish), and so on and so forth. I also find that it helps to visually see the word for tree instead of having to translate it and then associate it with a tree. As mentioned by Graham Fuller in his CDs and accompanying pamphlet: Secrets of Learning A Foreign Language that comes with the Learn in Your Car series. You can apply this to flash cards and SRS (Spaced Repetition Systems) like Anki and Memrise by adding photos to them. I remember a French class I had taken in secondary/high school where the teacher actually used images to help reinforce vocabulary. However, I wouldn’t recommend taking classes because of the credit-driven students that aren’t actually interested in learning your target language. Obviously, there are words you are going to learn without a visual cue because there isn’t one to describe it. Such as prepositions and other grammatical patterns. Try learning them in the context they are used in.
Don’t Discuss Topics That Aren’t Relevant To You Or Random Textbook Dialogues
Let’s face it. Most of the conversations found in textbooks and other language learning materials (such as Teach Yourself) can be absolutely random. I am not saying that they can’t be useful to learn but not everyone has use for it. Or the context is so vague that being able to use it can be quite confusing to say the least. Focus on what you’re passionate about. Have conversations about what’s relevant to your objectives.
Example: Talking about marine biology, how to burn incense or Game of Thrones when none of those subjects interest you at all is going to be useless to learn. Unless, you want to discuss why you dislike them so much. Otherwise, why waste you precious time like that?
More often then not, language classes tend to teach you what they think you need to know. However, chances are that they are more or less teaching you how to survive in the language based on how the textbook is organised. Is it really that impressive that you can talk about all the things in your living room, “this is a pen!“, colours, and that you like to read books? It’s really not. In fact, this what people who take language classes in school always say when asked if they can speak a different language. Is this you? If so, why? Try to go more into details with what you like to do. Instead of just saying: “I like to read books, watch TV and travel.” go more into detail about them: “I like to read science fiction and fantasy adventure novels, I love watching the series Borgen on TV and I would love to travel to Indonesia someday.” This will help provide you with a conversation that has more substance to it. It can also help transition from the beginner’s stages to an intermediate level.
What do you think? How meaningful are your conversations with native speakers? What do you do to get past the beginner’s stages and to a conversation you actually want to have? I would love to hear what you think! What defines a meaningful conversation to you? Discuss in the comment section below! 😀