If you’re on holiday or living abroad, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to practise with the locals. But how best to get to know the people around you and get them into conversations that you can manage?
To make sure that you come away empowered and not embarrassed, you need to:
So do a bit of research and choose your immersive learning targets with care….
If you’re just starting out with the language then basic interactions around town as a tourist are just about perfect. Ask for directions even if you know exactly how to get there; same with the time. Ask questions in shops or in museums and attractions.
Choose your victim: you don’t want to lose confidence with an unfriendly reaction. Once you’ve found someone who is open and friendly to you, try to keep the conversation going as long as you can, use all the vocabulary that you can think of.
Once you’ve reached a slightly more advanced level you should be able to take part in your first one-on-one conversations. Out and about in town, these might take the form of more advanced enquiries at service points – say with the tourist guide or basic telephone conversations – perhaps to book accommodation or hire a car. Most of all never miss the opportunity for a friendly chat about the weather – the universal thematic of chit-chat around the globe.
Bars and restaurants can be the friendliest places of all; the places where you have the best chance of swapping more than a handful of words. Choosing the right venue is absolutely essential to success, but can be hard. You need a place where people are open and friendly, but where the acoustic is not too noisy.
Different countries and cultures have their own different places where people socialise most and are most open to meeting and interacting with strangers. Tourist destinations that attract a lot of native tourism can often work. Most tourists are keen to have interactions, make friends and pass the time. Hotel bars or restaurants can be good places to meet people who are travelling within their own country.
Another universally fruitful language practise spot, if you are brave, is local watering holes. What in England we might call ‘old man’s pubs’ can be very friendly (though do choose with care!). A bar full of regulars is often keen to see a new face, and curious. You can take advantage of this and practise speaking with them all evening!
Language learner, teacher and contributing author to the Rosetta Stone magazine
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