Yesterday evening I went to Café Lingua – lifandi tungumál at the University of Iceland / Háskóli Íslands. It’s a regular meet-up for language enthusiasts, and last night there were a lot of extra people there who are in Reykjavik for the Polyglot Conference. It was great to see lots of familiar faces, and to meet new people.
I had conversations in English, Welsh, Irish and Mandarin, and spoke odd bits of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Swedish, Icelandic, Czech, Russian, Finnish and French. Other languages were available.
Today I’m going on a Golden Circle tour with other Polyglot Conference participants.
Today we have a guest post by Anna, the author of Comunicamo
Practicing languages via chat rooms or with pen-pals may be very helpful but for many of us it is often hard to choose an appropriate discussion topic.
Comunicamo is a free website that allows you to practice foreign language by commenting on current news stories and events without pondering over conversation topics and without personal introductions.
Commenting on the news can be very interesting, especially when there’s a hot topic. Sometimes you can draw somebody who turns out to have totally different opinion. That is even better as it makes discussion more ardent and you finally forget that the language you are writing in is not your native tongue.
Here is how it works:
- After clicking “compose new message” choose the language you want to practice.
- A random recipient will be assigned.
- Choose one of the proposed news items (don’t hesitate to choose something controversial or funny).
- Write your opinion or comment about the news.
- Your message will be sent to the previously selected recipient and the conversation starts.
You can also log in and wait until somebody draws you.
After exchanging some messages you can start another discussion with the same person or draw another one.
Remember: the website is dedicated for those who study foreign language for some time and want to practice it in real conversations.
If you are a beginner, don’t worry. Users can choose the level of randomly selected conversation partners. After some messages you will be able to see if people understand you.
If you study Spanish then imagine yourself on a street of Madrid. There will be no teacher helping you.
I would be grateful for your comments about the idea.
A useful-looking website I heard about today is Lang-8, which describes itself as a a social networking service site for language exchange and international communication. Users can write journal entries in a language they’re learning, and get them corrected by native speakers of that language. There are also groups for particular language combinations, e.g. Japanese / English or Chinese / English, and discussion forums.
Last Saturday I went out with some Czech and Slovak friends, and was pleased to discover that I could get the gist of what they were talking about in Czech and Slovak. Although I could only catch the odd word and phrase, this was enough to get a basic idea of the subjects under discussion.
Before I started studying Czech, it just sounded like a continuous stream of meaningless sound. Now I can distinguish individual words in that stream and even know what some of them mean. My brain is gradually tuning into the language, a process that will take quite a while. I’m in no hurry though.
My plan to stick to one language for two days at a time is going quite well so far. Previously I usually only listened to one or two different programmes at a time on online radio stations. Listening to one station all day is interesting as you get to hear a greater variety of programmes and voices.
Yesterday I even listened to a bit of Manx on the website of the Manx band, King Chiaulee. There’s a recording of an interview with the band from Energy FM on the Goodies page and the presenter talks in Manx and English.
Quite often during the day one of my language exchange partners contacts me and wants to chat. While it’s great to practice speaking and writing Mandarin, Japanese and Spanish, or occasionally other languages, it tends to distract me from the Celtic languages I’m trying to concentrate on.
It’s hard work being a polyglot!
Language exchange is a great way to practise languages you’re learning and to learn more. In my experience, it works best if those involved have reached a similar level in the language(s) they’re studying – ideally at least an intermediate level.
Sometimes the conversation flows, other times it limps along like an ostrich trying to walk through treacle. To avoid the treacle, you could agree on topics in advance and prepare them by learning relevant vocabulary. This works quite well, though after a while, thinking up new topics can be quite a challenge.
One topic I thought up today was cultural differences, particularly as they apply to the workplace. For example, the kinds of things people do when they or someone else in the office has a birthday, or when they leave the company.
What do you talk about with your language exchange partners?
I’ve been chatting with a number of people in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Japanese today. After many years of neglect, my command of these languages is gradually improving.
My Mandarin is more or less fluent, though there are many gaps in my vocabulary, which I’m doing my best to fill. Some of the people I’ve been talking to told me that they thought I was a native Mandarin speaker, which is encouraging.
I only have a limited knowledge of Taiwanese, but that should improve with practice. I can understand the language to some extent thanks to many years of hearing it while in Taiwan, and when I hear people speaking it, it brings back lots of memories.
My Japanese is also gradually coming back to me. I can’t speak it particularly well at the moment, but can understand quite a lot. When talking to my Japanese contacts today, I was pleased to realise that I could actually follow most of what they said in Japanese. One problem I have is that I often find myself at loss for appropriate verbs when I get to the end of my Japanese sentences.
I came across yet another language exchange site today. It looks similar to other ones I’ve joined and I’ll give it a go. The site has a subscription-based ‘Gold’ membership, for $6 per month, which gives you extras not available with free membership, such as being able to contact other members. Regular members can only receive and reply to messages from gold members.
So far, the only language exchange site which has produced results for me is Mixxer. I’ve been contacted by people from all over the world via this site, with the majority of my contacts coming from China. Today I’ve chatting to people from China, Japan, Bulgaria, Norway and Korea.