Having adequate conversations is a coveted skill especially when it happens in a foreign language. Unfortunately, learners usually pay more attention to reading comprehension than to the verbal aspect which should not be neglected as it is the major skill considered when evaluating fluency.
Most language learners feel insecure when they must start using the language they have been learning with native speakers because they struggle to understand them. It is certainly not the same as in the classroom or with a private tutor speaking at a slower pace so that you can understand. It is certainly not how language is used in the real world.
Therefore, there is a need to incorporate conversation practice as a routine part of language learning.
How can this be done?
Learning by doing is the best way. Conversation practice allows learners to apply the knowledge they are acquiring comprehensively so that they obtain the necessary skills to produce oral communication. Various studies suggest-understandably- that learners who practice speaking outperform those who just do comprehension exercises without oral practice.
When engaged in a conversation practice, learners integrate grammar, vocabulary, and other syntactic elements to form sentences and communicate their thoughts and opinions to others.
Listening and speaking.
To complete this communication, learners must be able to have a good listening ability to apply this knowledge to the real world. This immediately highlights the importance of competent listening skills.
So, as you can see, to improve your conversation skills you must be able to practice active listening.
This implies not only the act of listening, but also understanding the person and the culture they belong to. When listening you are not just willing to get the gist of what is said so that you can answer, but it also means showing genuine interest and asking the right questions. It gives you at the same time the right means to interrupt your coach and ask when you don’t understand a word, a sentence or an expression. This is preparing you for the use of the foreign language in the open world.
Be more colloquial.
It is easier to use formal expressions than everyday language. When learners show more interest in their coach and peers, the conversations are more genuine, and everybody benefits from it. Showing that you do care to your conversation partner plays an important role in establishing the adequate communication. It is then also easier for you to improve your grammar and be more accurate in your choice of words according to each situation.
Communication and not perfection should be your primary aim. Errors are part of the learning process, and remember the more you practice the more you will be improving.
Learning the content before attending the conversation practice.
In my conversation practice courses, learners receive the conversation topic before their training session, and they work with their study material during the session. They do the research for the necessary vocabulary, terms and phrases that will back up their opinion. They work at their own pace and thus feel empowered because they choose how much or how little they want to research the subject. When the training session starts with the coach, they are ready for their conversation practice.
Contrarily to most language classes – which emphasise grammar and are a deterrent in confidence building- learners in my conversation practice courses are encouraged to speak from the start, no matter their level of competence. The course can be tailor-made to fit the needs of the individual and or group. The important is to give learners a satisfying experience and it is proven that they learn much more because they engage more.
Generally, learners participate more if the content is useful to them as well as relevant and inspiring. In conversation practice I always try to gauge the most participation boosting topics.
Acquired intercultural skills.
Intercultural skills help learners communicate more effectively with people from diverse cultural background. Talking in the foreign language is the first step in achieving it. If you are unable to communicate in the native language you will be in a disadvantaged position and it will affect your confidence.
“Language skills and intercultural skills go hand in hand”.
Conversation practice - either as an individual learner or as part of a group - is important to effectively consolidate your knowledge of the foreign language and a coach will be of help. He/she will guide you and make the experience enjoyable. Researching the topic beforehand will help you take the most advantage of your session as you will have plenty of time to investigate. Don’t take my word for it, try it. You will see how quick you will progress in the foreign language.