Personally, I spent 7 years studying Spanish in high school and college, but I almost never spoke Spanish outside of class. I would stutter and clam up anytime I did happen to meet a native Spanish speaker. I would spend more time apologizing for my mistakes than moving the conversation forward.
I honestly think I would have continued studying the language without ever getting any more comfortable with speaking if my college hadn’t had an incredible study-abroad program in a small city in Spain. It was too good a travel opportunity for me to pass up. Funny enough, I actually spoke Spanish more with my host family than with classmates. My host parents knew little to no English but they were so kind and wanted to make me feel at home with them. The way I saw it, they didn’t care if I used the right verb tense; they just wanted to know if I needed a lunch packed for me tomorrow or if I would like to watch The Simpsons with their grandkids.
I think that desire to connect is what banished my fear of speaking with native speakers. I wanted to know about these kind people who opened up their home to me. If the only way to do that was to speak in Spanish, then that’s what I was going to do.
I’m very aware that I had incredible privilege and that not everyone has the ability to catch a flight and live in another country for a year. That said, the world can be made so much smaller with technology. Tons of services online connect language learners to native speakers. In some ways, practicing your speaking online is actually an even better experience. In the real world, people are busy and no one owes you their time. In stark contrast, tutors on these platforms have made the active choice to be online to help others. Most of the time, they themselves are multi-lingual and eager to learn about other countries & cultures. I genuinely believe that that human, personal connection really makes all the difference.
Here’s a few online platforms that I think can ease you into speaking with native speakers:
Chatterbox would be an easy place to start if you’re really new to a language. They have “adaptive courses” that are meant to help you master language skills by responding to what works for you. They also help set up one-on-one video sessions with native speakers from around the world.
With Tandem, you can simply log on, find someone who looks interesting, and give them a call. Easy as that. Tandem’s app helps you find native speakers of almost any language who want to learn your language in exchange.
Cambly is a slightly different platform and is targeted towards those learning English. 24/7, just log on and start chatting! Cambly’s tutors have a variety of backgrounds and come from Europe, Australia, the United States, etc. (perfect if you’re doing business and you’re unfamiliar with that region’s accent). They even have a separate platform just for Kids if you’ve got young children you’d like to immerse in English sooner rather than later.
Author: Noreen, former English Teaching Assistant at The US State Department’s Fulbright Program (2015)