One of the most difficult aspects of language learning is getting the opportunity to practice. That becomes more obvious when you try to learn a foreign language in your own country and have little or no chance to meet native speakers you can practice your speaking with. As important as it is to have a teacher that helps you through the learning process and encourages you to loosen up and speak, it is clear that a bit of practice on the side can push you a bit further. Going that extra mile makes all the difference in mastering your new language. It’s not just a matter of gaining fluency, but also of getting to know the lingo and slang- the way natives really speak. It is also the best way to get a good insight into the culture and find out what they are like: their food, their customs or their history.
One language school network were aware of the importance of getting their students to speak English and came up with a very original idea to get them some conversation practice: they found another group of people that also needed someone to talk to. Residents in homes for the elderly in the U.S. had loads of time on their hands, a lot to talk about and access to computers so they could have videochats. Their experience and patience was also a great advantage; they would never run out of things to talk about – or time to correct errors and listen to the person at the other end of the line. It was also a good opportunity for them to socialize, feel less lonely and learn IT skills that help them keep active.
The experiment was a success and all the participants took something valuable away with them from the experience, not only through learning, but also in getting to know about a different culture and, unexpectedly, making new friends. You can watch a video here that includes some footage of the videochats and the participants. Touching, isn’t it?
If you are interested in finding a conversation partner or meeting up with language exchange groups these are two very popular sites worldwide
Both are free online communities in which you can create your own profile and contact people with the same hobbies and interests. You will find specific language exchange groups and events as well as individuals with similar interests who live in your area or are just visiting and want to see your city from the point of view of a local. As in the case of the Brazilian students and the American retirees, it’s clearly a win-win situation!
- Loosen up (v): To set free or release; to make or become less strict or severe. In this case it refers to losing one’s fears and the tension one feels when doing something they find difficult (e.g. speaking English)
- Go the extra mile (phrase): to make a greater effort to achieve a goal
- Lingo (n): a term used for the specific language used by a certain group of people or in a certain field; jargon
- Get/gain an insight into (v): to perceive or understand clearly a complex situation or someone else’s thoughts.
- Home for the elderly (n):a building or organization set up to care for the aged
- Local (n/adj): something or someone from a particular city, town, village or area
- Win-win situation (phrase): a situation in which the outcome benefits all the parties involved and not just one of them