How to Start Speaking Another Language

Learning a language can be fun, but also intimidating. Especially talking to people. Here are some tips for how to take that next step from an app to real-life.

1. Find a language group

Three members of Conversational DC stand in a crowd talking over drinks.

The best, first step you can take toward learning a language is to find a community to learn with. Joining a language group will hold you accountable to the friends you make to continue attending events and practicing. So before you do anything, find a group, RSVP, and put it in your calendar, even if it’s a long ways away. If you’re in the Washington, DC area, check out Conversational DC, which holds events in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese.

2. Memorize key vocabulary about yourself

Memorizing language vocabulary
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Now that you have an event to attend, start to prepare. A simple way to get ready for a language immersion event is to memorize key vocabulary. First, write down some questions you think you may ask or answer, such as:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. How did you learn this language?
  3. What do you do in your free time?
  4. What was your last vacation?

Then, look up vocabulary for your answers, especially if there are technical or obscure words you need to know.

When you are searching for vocabulary and sentences on Google translate, forums, or online dictionaries, you are bound to make mistakes. Treat your experience at the language event as a chance to refine your responses.

3. Meet up with a language partner

finding a language partner
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While group language events can be helpful and fun, they often do not meet as frequently as you need them to. Consider finding a language partner at the language group to meet in between events.

When you meet with your language partner, find a place that’s quieter or has some privacy, like a park or table in the corner of a restaurant. It will be easier to hear one another and you will be less nervous about others overhearing your practice session. Come prepared with a few topics that you can discuss. Most of all, hold each other accountable to only speak the target language for at least 30 minutes.

4. Accept mistakes

language mistakes
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As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” Learning a language is hard, but you won’t get better without practice. Accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process. That discomfort you feel: that means you’re learning!

5. While traveling, look for chances to embarrass yourself

speaking a language bonjour
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Speaking of making mistakes, use travel as a chance to make even more mistakes, also known as a chance to learn! While it can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, try using every interaction with a local to speak the target language. Don’t feel bad if they switch to your native language–they are likely just trying to help. If you feel it’s appropriate, you can ask them, “can we speak in ____?” Keep in mind, while you’re traveling, it isn’t the job of the locals to teach you their language. Maintain respect for the community’s language and culture while looking for people that want to help you.

6. Find a language group abroad

language meetup groups abroad
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The same way that you found a language group at home, consider finding one abroad. Beyond major search engines, consider contacting a local university’s language department and see if there are groups they recommend to their students.

 

7. Book a tour and make them speak to you in the target language

tours in foreign languages
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Even if you have found a language group event to attend, consider booking a tour in the target language while abroad. Travel sites will list which tours are available in which languages. By taking a tour in another language, you will be practicing your language skills while learning about the culture connected to that language.

8. If you’re overwhelmed, take a break

language exhaustion
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Whether you’re practicing at an event, with a language partner, or on your tour, don’t be afraid to take breaks if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Rather than switching to your native language, go to the restroom, step outside, or refill your drink to take a breath. Learning a language can be exhausting, but if you keep it up, it will all be worth it.

Are you looking for a chance to speak a language abroad? Explore our opportunities to intern or work abroad in the United States or outside the United States.

Lauren Aitken

Lauren is pursuing her Master's Degree in Education Policy and Management at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focusing on language education policy. Previously, she worked in international exchange programs at the U.S. Department of State, Cultural Vistas, and Meridian International Center.
Lauren Aitken

Lauren Aitken

Lauren is pursuing her Master's Degree in Education Policy and Management at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focusing on language education policy. Previously, she worked in international exchange programs at the U.S. Department of State, Cultural Vistas, and Meridian International Center.

View all posts by Lauren Aitken

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