How to start talking
When you are learning a foreign language, the majority of people focus on input. They try to take in as much of the language in possible through movies, books, apps like Duolingo and more.
And this is great. I am a huge fan of input first because it gives you the confidence, the grammar structures and vocabulary to be able to talk.
But after input, you get to the stage where you realise you need to talk to progress in a language. And apart from enjoying the learning process, speaking is normally the point of learning a language.
So why is this part so hard for so many of us?
I think speaking can be so difficult because after all of our studying we’re finally putting ourselves out there, and even though we tell ourselves it’s ok, making mistakes can still be scary.
But the fact you’re reading this is a good sign!
Maybe you don’t find speaking that scary and you just don’t know how to go about finding language partners. Well here are some ways that I like to get some speaking practise.
Ways you can practise speaking:
One-to-one language exchanges
My number one favourite way to practise speaking is through one to one language exchanges.
For me this is perfect, as you find someone who speaks the language you’re learning and who wants to learn your native language. Then you speak for half an hour in your language and half an hour in theirs.
The best thing about it is they’re in the same boat as you. So they probably feel just as nervous or shy, and they understand how nerve-wracking it can be, trying to speak in a new language.
- My favourite platform for this is But I may be biased as this was the website that introduced me to language exchanged in the first place.
- A good app to use on mobile is Hello Talk. It works similarly to italki but it’s on your mobile so more convenient for modern life.
The only problem with these is that sometimes it can be difficult finding things to talk about but if that’s your problem then don’t worry, we have some suggestions down below.
This is a bit similar to language exchanged but the difference is instead of one-to-one, you’re normally in a large group.
These can either be structure or unstructured. If the event is unstructured then you just start talking to whoever you’re sitting next to or join a group to start chatting. If the event is structured they normally have set times to speak each language or conversation cards on the table. You can choose to go to whichever kind of group you’re comfortable with.
In many European cities, they have groups through the week that meet up and and do large scale language exchanges.
- A good way to find language exchanges is to look on meetup. I can normally find a language meetup in whatever city I’m in.
- Facebook can also be useful if you join an internationals group in the city you’re staying or living in.
- Some bars and restaurants will advertise it in their establishment but you would have to be luck to find one.
If you are studying at a language school then this might be a possible option for you. I know many language schools offer a conversation class as well as a regular class, but less people always seem to take this class.
If you are doing a language course, then I would highly recommend adding the conversation class onto your schedule. Even if it’s an hour a day before your normal class starts, this really can make the world of difference.
Out and about
Never underestimate the importance of practising your language out and about. If you’re lucky to be in the country of the language you’re learning then you want to be practising at every possible opportunity.
Try to eat out for lunch more, or grabbing a coffee. You don’t have to spend a fortune as there are always cheaper places to eat in a city.
Try shopping at the market instead of the supermarket so you actually have to speak to people.
Also if you’re lost in a city or can’t find your way, try asking a local instead of looking on your phone. These kinds of natural exchanges will make the world of difference.
And don’t be afraid to ask them if you can practise!
If you try your German with the waiter and he replied to you in English, don’t be nervous about saying ‘sorry do you mind if we speak in German, I’m trying to practise.’
You’re the one who bought that plane ticket and you’re the one in that country. I have done this hundreds of times and I’ve yet to meet someone who has said no or reacted badly, and even if they did, there’s always someone else to talk to.
Although you probably want to practise speaking for free, it’s understandable that sometimes you just don’t want to put yourself out there or you just can’t find a partner you’re comfortable with.
If this is the case there are hundreds of teachers waiting online to help you, and it’s normally cheaper if you just want to talk and you don’t want a lesson.
The good thing about this is that it’s their job to put you at ease and to lead the conversation so you don’t have to worry about a thing.
Also they’re more likely to be patient with you and help you rather than reverting to English.
Film yourself and put it on YouTube
This option is for those of us who are a little bit braver. If you’re struggling to find language partners and you’re not in the country where they speak the language you’re learning, many people film their progress and upload it to YouTube.
This is useful as native speakers can comment and tell you how you can improve or give you encouragement.
It also helps as you can watch your own progress, if you film a starting out video then a six months or year later video.
Talk to yourself
It might sound a bit sad but talking to yourself does actually help. If you’re finding it difficult to talk in real life then start narrating what you’re doing while you’re doing it.
You might look crazy to your family but it’s a useful way to make speaking the language feel more natural coming out of your mouth.
What to talk about
It can really help if you think about topics to talk about beforehand. I have talked to so many people who have told me about their awkward Skype exchanges where they ended up staring at their partner and sharing long silences.
If you’re naturally more extroverted then great. You probably won’t have too many problems with this. But if you’re a bit timid, or introverted it might be harder for you to think of things to talk about, especially in a different language.
If this is the case then I would recommend thinking of some topics to talk about before the exchange so if it’s awkward or difficult, you have something to fall back on.
- One idea is before the exchange you suggest that both of you find two new stories to report to each other and then to talk about. This can be a really useful way to start a conversation.
- Another way can be to suggest a topic then talk about how this differs in your respective countries, for example education, pensions, politics, leisure time, food etc.
- A third thing you could do is to each prepare a presentation about yourself then the other person has to ask questions after the presentation.
- If there a specific grammar point you’re struggling on like the past perfect, you could prepare a series of questions to ask each other that could help practise that specifically.
If these ideas still seem too vague for you then here are some questions for you that you can ask.
Holidays and leisure
What do you do in your free time?
Where was the last place you went on holiday?
Where do you normally go on holiday and why?
Where is your dream destination?
Why are you learning this language?
How long have you been learning for?
Do you speak any other languages?
Have you studied any other languages?
If you could learn any language, what would you learn and why?
How many people are there in your family?
Tell me about your family
Do you have any children?
Do you want to have any children? If yes/no then why?
Would you like to have children?
Do you have any pets?
Where you live
Where are you from?
What is there to do in your town?
Have you lived anywhere else?
Where would you like to live?
What was your favourite subject at University and why?
Did you go to University? Where?
What did you study at University?
What would you like to study at University?
What do you do for a living?
What would you like to do for work?
What would your ideal job be?
Why did you choose your current profession?
What was the last movie you saw?
What type of movies do you like to watch?
What is your favourite movie of all time?
What is your least favourite movie of all time?
If you could be any fictional character who would you be?
What is your favourite book and why?
What is the last book you read?
What type of books do you normally like to read?
Politics and Religion (but be careful!)
What is the main religion in your country?
Are you religious?
What is the main political party?
How does your political system work?
Have you ever voted in an election?
Do you play any musical instruments?
Who is your favourite band?
What type of music do you enjoy listening to?
What was the last concert you went to?
If you could play any musical instrument what would you play and why?
- Make sure to ask why to these questions to help your partner speak more and give you more information.
- Open-ended questions are always better than questions that just have a yes or no answer
- Remember to be sensitive about cultural differences. And remember to always be careful when talking about politics and religion. The openness about this you’re used to in your country may not be the same in someone else’s.
Speaking is probably the scariest part about learning a language, but it’s also the reason that most of us want to learn.
Jump in and start talking! The person you’re speaking with probably feels as nervous as you do and once you’ve done it once, it gets easier and easier.
Good luck and keep learning!