After years of slow and frustrating progress with my Spanish, I had an important breakthrough.
If I want to be a better runner I should run more. If I want to be a better reader I should read more. And if I want to be better at conversing in Spanish I should converse in Spanish more.
It kind of sounds obvious, but it took me a long time to figure it out.
You can skip a lot of the guesswork and jump straight to a few important realisations:
- The first step—if you want to be better at conversing in Spanish you need to converse more.
- The second step—it is possible to find someone to practice your Spanish with no matter where you live.
- The third step—once you’ve found someone, you need to practice with them as often as you can.
In this post, I’ll share what worked for me to overcome the problems in step #1 and step #2.
If you want to hear about how to overcome the problem in the last step you can listen to this podcast episode for a simple technique on forming habits.
For me, step #1 is the hard part. This step is a tough hurdle because using your Spanish before you feel you are ready is very unnerving. I know I struggled with it a lot. But, once I was able to overcome those fears, I saw the kind of results with my Spanish that I had been waiting for.
If like me you get nerves about meeting new people and using your Spanish, there are a few simple things you can do to make the process easier.
How to make meeting people less daunting
Meeting people is hard. Making new friends can be awkward even if there is no language barrier.
Ever been on a blind date?
Even if you haven’t, it’s not hard to imagine. Awkward introduction. Slow conversation or no conversation. No chance for an early escape. And an awkward goodbye.
In reality, meeting up with someone to practice your Spanish isn’t anywhere near as bad as going on date.
But there are still going to be early awkward moments before you both can start showing your true personalities and opening up.
You will likely struggle while searching for good topics for conversation and knowing where the appropriate boundaries are.
There are three tips I have for dealing with this first awkward phase:
1. Remember the end goal.
A recurring theme you will find on Real Fast Spanish is that you need a high level of desire to overcome the road bumps that come with language learning.
Ask yourself—is this awkward uncomfortable feeling going to help me move closer to my conversational goals in Spanish?
If the answer is yes, then push forward.
Don’t underestimate the power of this first tip.
If your desire to get to the top of the mountain is higher than your desire to stop and turn around, you’ll make it to the top!
2. Do it earlier in the day.
Mental challenges are always best tackled earlier in the day when your willpower is at it’s highest. This will be true even if you are not a morning person.
If it is late in the day, you are tired and thinking about the end goal isn’t working for you, take a break. Sleep it off. And then try again the next day when you are feeling fresh.
3. Do it more often.
The more you do something, the easier it gets. Try to get into a rhythm. Every time you meet someone new, it will be a little bit easier to meet new someone again the following time.
How to approach someone new
Once you have cleared the initial mindset hurdle of actually reaching out to new people, you need a strategy for introductions.
What should you say? How should you say it?
The best piece of advice I was ever given on meeting people and networking is to remember two things:
1. Approach the interaction by giving.
Firstly, ask yourself—what can I offer this person?
Try not to answer the question in a business context. But, take the view of how can I help? What does this person need? What do they want? Can I help in any way?
More often than not you will be meeting Spanish natives that are learning English. This makes you a good resource to get any question about English answered quickly. But you can still do more. Ask yourself—how can I make myself even more valuable?
Can you prepare some short lessons on some of the tricky aspects of English? Or can you help to find something in your city like a place to stay or a job opportunity or an opportunity to hang out with locals?
2. Make it about them.
Secondly—and possibly even more effective—is to be “interested” as opposed to “interesting”.
In general, people like to talk about themselves. It’s your job to facilitate this!
Ask questions that will allow them to talk about themselves.
And, importantly, listen carefully!
You should also try to do your very best not to judge any of their answers.
Once you have built up the courage to reach out, and you have a good strategy for making introductions, next you need to find places where you can meet new Spanish people.
How to find someone to practice your Spanish within your existing network
You probably already have connections to Spanish people in your existing network of friends, family and co-workers. You simply have to explore your existing network to see what you can find.
All you have to do is ask—does anybody know someone who speaks Spanish?
Ask your co-workers around the office if they know Spanish speakers. Maybe there is someone who currently works in your office and you only need a little bit of detective work to find them.
You could ask at home with your direct family. Or you could try your extended family at your next big family gathering. Maybe your cousin has a Spanish student staying with them on exchange.
Another place you could try is in your existing network of friends on the social interwebs. Put a call out as your status on Facebook or tweet “does anybody know a Spanish speaker who may want help with their English?”
How to find Spanish speakers in your city
Even if you can’t find Spanish speakers in your existing network, you still have options for finding Spanish people to practice with who live your city or are there visiting on vacation.
If you live in a larger city, you can use resources like www.meetup.com to find people that are passionate about Spanish who meet on a regular basis. Meetup.com is great for finding passionate enthusiasts that can not only help with accountability but can introduce you to Spanish speakers that they know in their circle of friends.
If you can’t find any local Spanish meetups you could also try hosting travellers by signing up at www.couchsurfing.com and becoming a Couchsurfing host. The Couchsurfing movement is an amazing karmic system, where you host people for free and in turn, find opportunities for yourself to stay for free wherever you go on vacation.
Just imagine—you could host Spanish Couchsurfers and show them around your city. While they are staying at your place you can practice your Spanish with them at night—you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home!
If you have young children and a spare room, you can host an au pair. You could offer Spanish au pairs to come and stay with you and help look after your children. Once your kids are asleep you can practice your Spanish with your au pair—and again you won’t have to leave your own house.
Find Spanish speakers anywhere in the world
If you can’t find any options for practicing Spanish in your hometown, you can go online and find Spanish speakers anywhere.
Before I dive into the resources, I will suggest that you keep in mind that you should try at least 5 language exchange partners online before you decide that practicing over Skype is not for you.
I have found that the hit rate for making great connections is around the 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 mark. People are unpredictable. What I mean is that sometimes it can seem that you have a great connection but the next minute this person blocks you.
The vice-versa is also true, you may find someone that you don’t particularly get along with but they insist on messaging you for another chat.
If you are struggling with a few interesting online characters, just think back to what I mentioned earlier in the article and try to remember the end goal.
Also, keep in mind, that the 1 in 5 connection that you make that actually works can be amazing!
I have made long term friends practicing over Skype that lead to amazing experiences when I eventually went to visit them in Spain.
So with that said, here are a few of my favourite resources for finding contacts anywhere in the world:
- www.language-exchanges.org – Don’t let looks fool you, this website is fantastic for finding Spanish natives for speaking practice over Skype.
- www.conversationexchange.com – This is another favourite of mine. Again, it is useful for finding Spanish natives for speaking over Skype. I have also used this website for meeting people in my city.
- www.hellotalk.com – This option is a nice iPhone or android application. This makes it great for networking with Spanish natives while you are out and about. This is the easiest of the option to get up and running quickly.
- www.interpals.net – If you aren’t into the idea of speaking with someone over Skype, an alternative is to find a pen pal. This website is great for finding people that just want to write to each other.
- www.italki.com – If you have more time than money, rather than trying to find a language exchange you can simply pay a Spanish teacher to practice with you and skip the part where you have to help someone with their English.
Your last option is to sign up for the Real Fast Spanish School where you can get a chance to practice your Spanish with me or one of our Spanish teachers!
Meeting new people requires a little bit of discomfort but the rewards are huge. If you can make friends with Spanish natives you will have a resource to help with the part of language learning you need the most practice with—conversing in Spanish.
Being able to meet people that speak your target language is a repeatable process. Once you have developed the skill you can use it to shortcut the journey to achieving the goal of conversational Spanish.
How else could find someone to practice your Spanish with?