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March 2018

Making the Most of Language Partners

How to make your conversations more beneficial to learning 

Conversing with a native speaker is perhaps the best exercise for learning a new language. Everything you’ve learned, from grammar rules to vocabulary, come into play when you have a verbal exchange. After all, the whole point of learning a foreign language for most people is to be able to hold a conversation in the target language. Working with a language partner can be fun and social, and it works well as instruction because it’s organic and feedback is given in real time. It’s also a great way to make friends and learn more about new cultures. 

While simply having a chat can be a great exercise, there are many ways to ensure your conversations benefit your learning as much as possible. Today we’ll take a look at some tips to gain more efficacy and efficiency when learning with a language partner.

Find the right teacher

It seems fairly obvious to say it, however many students don’t consider how important it is to find the right teacher. We naturally assume that native speakers know their mother tongue better than the student, however this is sometimes not the case. Often, native speakers forget the grammar rules that govern their speech, as they’re already so familiar with their mother tongue. Additionally, many younger speakers may use slang or grammatically incorrect sentence structures, while older speakers may use dialect that no longer applies.

It’s very important to ensure that the person you’re learning from has a good educational grasp of their language. This way you won’t be taught something wrong and carry the error with you into the future.

The right language partner is also willing to correct you when you’re wrong. Often, friends may try to be too nice and overlook small errors so long as they understand what you mean. This isn’t good because skipping past errors can cement the error into your speech. You want to find a teacher willing to point out your mistakes, so you can weed them out as quickly as possible.

Of course, the right language partner has not only time to spare but also patience. If you’re a beginner, this is even more important as many people may not have the patience to speak with someone who cannot yet communicate well. Likewise, you should make the meeting something of value to your partner as well. Whether it’s payment for instruction or treating a friend out to dinner, it’s only polite to give back to your would-be language teacher.

Finally, the right language partner is someone with whom you can hold a stimulating conversation. You want to chat with someone who actually interests you, of course.

Take notes

During each meeting, it’s a good idea to have a pen and pad nearby to keep a record of everything new you’ve learned, as well as any mistakes you’ve encountered. One of the goals of learning is to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. 

Highlight your weak points in terms of grammar and revisit these lessons in your textbook when you finish the conversation. Keep a list of the new words you’ve learned so you don’t forget them.

Meet with people regularly and mix it up

Whether you have one language partner or many, or if you meet them online or in person, it’s a good idea to schedule regular meetings so your skills don’t fall through the cracks. One good way to do this is by joining a language conversation group. You can generally find these groups online. This is also a great way to meet new language partners to converse with individually later.

In terms of subjects, it can help to mentally formulate a list of various speaking prompts you can use for your chats. When we speak with most people (in any language), we inevitably gravitate back to the same conversations about work, movies, and our life histories. Having a list of diverse subjects to explore can help steer the conversation to less familiar subjects where your vocabulary may not be so well formed, where learning potential is higher.

Solicit feedback 

Don’t be shy with asking for feedback after the meeting. What impression did your language partner get with your speaking skills. Ask him or her how you can best improve your speaking to sound more like a native speaker. Learning a new language can often be a challenging experience, like looking into a mirror and judging oneself, but it’s only through self-realisation that we improve.

Do you practise your target language with a conversation partner? What are your tips? Let us know your experiences on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning!