11 August 2009 ~ 0 Comments

How to have an intercambio

In my last blog post I mentioned a few of the resources that I found incredibly important in the my quest to learn Spanish. What I did not make incredibly clear was that the number one way I learned Spanish, the thing that above all others helped me achieve my goal of speaking a second language, was practice. (I suppose the fact that I built a website to help others practice Spanish and English is testament to my belief that this is critical to learning a language.)

I practiced, and continue to do so, incessantly. For me practice means one thing, speaking. Sure, there are a lot of other things you have to do to learn a language, but speaking a language is how you get good at, well, speaking a language.

Some people are blessed with a natural ability to just go out and speak to people. I am not one of them. So for those of you like me (the semi-introverted trying to be extroverted) here are my tips on meeting people to practice with.

1. OK, shameless plug here, use Lenguajero to meet people that you can chat with online. If you are really nervous about speaking face to face with someone in your learning language ease your way in by having online conversations first. You can even ease your way into those, start with just some text chatting, and work your way up to using voice and video.

2. If you are traveling or living in a country where your learning language is the native language use CouchSurfing to meet people. Aside from being a website that helps you find a place to crash there are CouchSurfing groups in cities all over the world that help you meet people for conversation exchanges. (If you speak English you will have no trouble finding loads of people who want to have conversation exchanges with you.)

3. When you meet someone for the first time go have a drink (or two) while you get to know each other. You will probably have more to talk about once your tongue has been loosened a bit, and if you are nervous about speaking in your new language it’s an easy way to get over the jitters.

4. Look for common ground and focus on that. For example, I am a huge Metallica fan. While living in Oaxaca I set up an intercambio through an English school. I didn’t know anything about who I was meeting (he turned out to be a super shy 15 year old), but once we met I started asking him questions about what his hobbies were, what movies he liked, and what music he liked. As soon as we discovered that we were both huge Metallica fans the fact that we had absolutely nothing else in common didn’t matter, and we were (and still are) able to have lots of conversations.

5. Bring a notebook with you. If you always have a notebook you will be able to write down new vocabulary, and write out or draw or otherwise communicate things that are difficult for you to say in your new language.

6. Stick with it. When I was first learning Spanish I would have days where it seemed like every thought I wanted to communicate was unable to be put into words, where every sentence I uttered was greeted with blank or confused stares. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes. Lots of them. It is just like learning how to be good at anything else, it takes practice and mistakes to get better.

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