Why is it so important to engage in one-to-one conversation when learning a new language?
It may well be possible to make some real progress in learning a new language independently, but, very quickly, everyone hits the same challenges. Language exists to bring people together! It is how we share our ideas, feelings, and experiences. To approach acquisition of a foreign tongue totally alone would be to deny the very heart of it, the exact reasons we all need and use language every day! Furthermore, to truly begin to internalize all the intricacies of the way a people speak, it is necessary to actually interact with someone who knows them and can use them, in real time and in context. That mastery of these tiny variations, from slang to intonation, are what define fluency.
The ‘Perfect Match’ Project
Adweek recently explored a new, exciting English learning project called Perfect Match, wherein Brazilian kids enjoy the opportunity to practice English by video chatting with lonely, elderly Americans. Dubbed a “Speaking Exchange,” program, it connects young Brazilians who want to learn English with American pensioners who are simply thrilled to have a friend with whom to chat.
The pilot project began in a CNA school in Liberdade, Brazil and the Windsor Park Retirement Community in Chicago, and involves web chats between students at the school and elderly Americans in Chicago. In a clever maneuver, language instructors record video chats and upload them onto a private YouTube channel, so that they can watch and evaluate students’ progress. This approach marries both the social component at the center of all language mastery and the academic necessity to monitor and strategically supervise linguistic fundamentals.
Vanessa Valenca, the program’s project coordinator, said the program gives students the chance to interact with native speakers without having to travel abroad. She says that the students want to learn English fluently, and this project greatly aids the process by adding a real, human touch to what would otherwise be an incomplete and monotonous process. For students, the program provide both additional, personal motivation to improve communication, which will facilitate increasingly smooth conversation, and an invaluable resource for grammatical and vocabulary correction, modeling of pronunciation, and advice.
The touching video case study shows the very real relationships that the students and pensioners develop. They exchange small talk, discuss personal histories, goals, and more, enriching each other’s lives not only through the benefits of the English conversation, but through a deeper cultural and emotional exchange as well!
Speak to Read
Andrew Weiler discusses the importance of speaking and listening when learning a language, and why improving conversation skills is important for language learning. He says that speaking and listening is at the heart of learning a language, and that the part of the brain where we learn reading and writing skills admits limited traffic to the speaking part of the brain. This mirrors how language evolved historically, as well as the order in which native speakers learn to communicate – first, we all learn to speak, and then, with instruction, we learn to read and write.
Alternatively, when students first start learning a language through writing and reading, they become proficient in these skills, but are not able to translate their knowledge into verbal communication. However, if they were to learn to speak first, students would be able to easily convert their knowledge into writing and reading skills.
Conversation Practice Makes Perfect
Practice is unquestionably the best way to learn a language. Weiler says that the best kind of practice is having conversations with people to whom students actually want to talk. This not only makes them practice communicating exactly what they mean, but also encourages them to listen carefully because they want to understand what is being said.
Although the first interactions of the web chats may start off somewhat haltingly, while the two speakers get to know each other, a relationship eventually forms. Both students and pensioners really begin to enjoy the conversations, emphasizing with real communication instead of regurgitated words.
Take Small Steps to Build Confidence
Confidence is key when learning a new language. Author of Fluent in 3 Months, Benny Lewis states that unleashing your confidence is vital when learning a new language.
He writes that conversing with a native speaker is an important step to take in achieving fluency. Learning a language can be a scary process, because it takes students out of their comfort zones.
Lewis says that instead of trying to take huge leaps to reach the goal, it’s more effective to take small, easy steps and to set intermediary goals. We all know how stressful it can feel to practice a new language some situations, such as ordering food in a foreign restaurant, which would require speaking to someone unfamiliar, and often in front of a group of people. Having one-to-one conversations is a crucial “small” step that can be designed to be challenging enough for students that they learn effectively, but comfortable enough that they want to do it.
One-on-one conversations are essential to both learning to speak and learning to read and write. Practicing to speak a language is key to building students’ confidence, and confidence is key to learning a language. You can’t have one without the other.
Conversations not only sharpen speaking skills, but are also pleasant for students as they begin to use the language to build relationships and cultural awareness. Listen & Learn emphasizes the great work our qualified and friendly instructors, all of whom are native speakers, offer for just this reason. Contact Us to find out how to boost your language skills and jump into speaking confidently with your foreign friends.