To learn a language properly, you have to master the four different skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. As any student of languages will know, one of the most nerve-wracking events of the academic year is the oral examination, when your ability to converse, deliver a presentation or respond to questions in the target language is assessed.
Unlike the other three disciplines, it’s very difficult to practise speaking a foreign language in your home country, especially when you only have one or two timetabled oral class contact hours each week. Although the internet is full of resources for language learners such as YouTube videos, foreign television shows and songs and news articles, it is severely lacking in ways to practise verbal communication. In fact, one of the only ways to practise your language orally is to Skype a foreign friend, and as not everybody is lucky enough to have friends who are native speakers of the language they study, I’ve put together a list of three great ways to practise speaking your language of choice right here in Sheffield:
- Get a tandem partner – There are many international students in Sheffield and many are willing to meet up with English students to help them practise their language in exchange for help with their English. Speak to your language teacher for more information on how to sign up for a tandem partner or check the Jessop West noticeboards for any opportunities.
- Join a society – Languages societies aren’t just for languages students; native speakers who study other subjects at the university also join. I’m on this year’s committee for LusoSoc (the Lusophone and Portuguese Society) and this year we’ve been running weekly ‘Conversas no café’ (‘café chats’) which have mostly been held at the Interval bar in the SU. Native speakers of both Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese turn up every week and we (English students studying Portuguese) chat to them in Portuguese over food and drinks. If you don’t study Portuguese, it may be the case that your society does something similar, and if not, why not suggest it to the committee and start one yourself?
- MLTC modules – Got any extra credits? If you do and want more formal hours of speaking practise a week, it may be a good idea to use them on a module for the university’s Modern Languages Teaching Centre. A range of subjects are available, including Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Italian.
And if all else fails, the likes of RyanAir and Easyjet are on hand to help you take a weekend break to practise your language on foreign soil!