Lately I’ve been having a back-and-forth with a couple of my classmates about who is and isn’t acceptable when looking for a speaking partner to practice with. In particular, one of my Spanish buddies thinks practicing with anyone other than a native speaker or someone with near-native fluency is completely unacceptable. She says, “why would I want to talk with someone who can’t correct my mistakes? We’ll just be speaking Spanish-like gibberish with each other all day.” While I don’t have a firm opinion on the issue myself yet, I do know these 5 things…
1. Practicing speaking is good with just about anyone or anything if it gets you to break out of your shell. Heck, I was speaking Spanish with the squirrels in the park the other day—not that they responded. The point is to start thinking in the language. If you don’t put yourself out there (and make mistakes), you’ll never speak any language very well.
2. Practicing with someone who butchers grammar and pronunciation can be helpful when you want to sharpen your thinking skills. But it can also sometimes hurt you. Before a test last semester, I met with a student who really struggles with the language, in order to give her a bit of help with the oral portion of the exam. I found that after an hour of speaking with her, I was actually less prepared myself. I was losing my pure vowel sounds and confusing my conjugations. I was starting to mirror her abilities. Luckily, I pulled it together at the last minute. Ja! Since then, I’ve continued to have some one-on-one meetings with classmates and have found the experiences to be sometimes rewarding and sometimes frustrating.
3. On the other hand…I’ve been taking part in a Spanish conversation club lately that has all levels: native speakers, people who only know a few words, intermediate-level students, high-school language teachers, etc. I’ve found this to be a really good situation. As you move around the room making conversation, sometimes you are the one helping others piece together thoughts and words; other times you’re the one getting help. Basically, you can build your confidence by speaking with others at your level but then challenge yourself by having conversations with more advanced speakers.
4. While native speakers are obviously a great resource, they make mistakes, too. I’ve also found that they often don’t correct your grammar, pronunciation, etc. without being asked. So speak up when you’re looking to be right…not just understood.
5. Don’t throw any old Spanish word into a sentence just because it’s a Spanish word. This can lead to…¿Qué hora es?