For now, I’m trying to avoid writing about specific methods, because I don’t believe there is only one way to learn a language, and truthfully, I could find things in each of them that just wouldn’t work for me. But today, I want to say that a particular “technique” actually worked. I got this idea from David Snopek over at linguatrek.com. (Advertisement: David Snopek is an American who has learned Polish and even created a product to help in English learning. You should definitely check out his blog)
There are two situations which are the most uncomfortable for a language learner: speaking over the phone, and speaking in a group of native speakers. The phone one should be easy: Especially if you’re using cellphones, there will likely be a pretty poor audio quality, and you could end up with a crash course in learning how to handle reductions in speech.
In a conversation with native speakers, it can become tricky because the everything can move fast. It starts off with one topic, then quickly goes into all these sub-points which can make it difficult to lose focus.
I recently had both of these situations; the phone call a few weeks ago, which was incredibly enjoyable, and then a conversation with a group of native speakers at a German coffee hour. Going by David Snopek’s advice, I responded to everything I could. Especially in a group, the problem wasn’t comprehension, it was being able to quickly formulate the best way to express myself. Even if it was just a simple two word answer, I responded to every point or opinion that was expressed.
End result: Yesterday, I had a very interesting conversation all in German about the Pope’s resignation, about how cultural differences could have influenced his decision, general expectations of work in Germany, and I was even able to throw in a slight disagreement. I managed to do this through acknowledging with a simple “yes” that I understood what was being said, asking questions even if I was pretty sure I already knew the answer, and when there was a *very* quick natural pause, I interjected my own opinion, and didn’t pay attention to whether it was grammatically correct.
Another thing this exchange taught me: comprehensibility is the critical part. I made plenty of mistakes in my conversation; but it was good enough that I wasn’t just understood, I was able to actually contribute to the discussion.