In this article I want to talk about a very important subject: native speakers.
I’ve already talked a bit about it, and that’s because they are essential to your project of learning French.
- First, they represent an enormous source of motivation. Indeed, if you learn French, it’s because you want to speak it with its native speakers, right?
- Second, they help you because they become advisers to your learning. They can correct the mistakes you make, your accent, if your phrase structures are idiomatic (natural) or not.
- And third, they also help you to practice your oral comprehension when you hear them talking, and your oral expression when you talk to them. That’s why conversation is a fundamental pillar when you learn French.
1) Meet the right people at the right place
Many people wonder: “What can I do if don’t have any French native speakers to talk with?”
The classic situation is when you meet a person with whom you get along and with whom you share common goals. For example, you meet a French speaker who’s learning English, so you teach him English, and he teaches you French in return. That’s the ideal scenario.
But what can you do if you can’t find anyone?
Even if you already have a circle of foreign friends, be careful. If you always speak in English together, you’ll quickly find yourself in a situation where you have no one to practice French with.
So what’s important to do is first to meet people in the right places and in relation to your preferences.
I often recommend to use apps (online apps, smartphone), whether it be Tandem, Speaky, Hello Talk… You can also try specialized websites on which you can meet native speakers for free like My Language Exchange or others…
Otherwise, you can also go to real events. I know some people don’t want to have online conversations on Skype at all. No worries, if you live in a big or medium city, you can still go to a language exchange meeting, a multilingual café (whatever you call them)… It could be an event like Polyglot Club in Paris, I’m sure you have these kind of initiatives in your country.
I know some people who just book a Couchsurfing and practice the language they want to learn with their host. It’s another great opportunity to meet new people and keep in touch afterwards. Because you will come across people who love traveling, make new friends, learn languages etc…
Just do it the way you feel the most comfortable: if you like to meet people face to face, then do it.
It’s very important because it will prevent you from meeting people with whom you don’t want to talk to because the way of communicating doesn’t fit you.
Of course, always pull out all the stops. I like apps because you have people who meet your requirements on hand whenever you want. Whereas if you go to France and ask a random person in the street “Hey you seem like a nice guy, can we talk?” it’s a bit more complicate…
Go in places where people share your interests. I’ve already been to linguistic tandems when I was in Brazil and I could meet great people from there. I could teach them French, I practiced my Portuguese, and we kept in touch afterwards.
2) The more native speakers, the better
Next what I advise you to do is to meet as much people you can meet as possible. If you have an app like Tandem, create a profile that makes other people want to meet you.
Sometimes I see people with a profile without any picture or any catchphrase… so you don’t really want to meet that person in the end. Of course you don’t need to be a top model, but give the impression that you’re a real person: you have a story, an environment, and a life basically. It gives people a desire to meet you, even more than your physical features.
Don’t hesitate to talk to many people. Even someone with whom you wouldn’t have talked to at first sight. A person who’s much younger or much older than you for example. Someone who’s not even from France: it could be an African, a Swiss, a Canadian… because they also speak French (some of them).
Don’t be afraid to go for the quantity, even if they are persons who don’t really catch your eye in the first place. It’s useless to take people at face value, you never know what of person they truly are.
I suggest you to have a circle of several persons because if you keep only one person, it can happen that she or he gets demotivated, or not free to talk with you.
For example I was in a trip in Germany, and my Chinese correspondent wasn’t free because of too much work, so my weekly conversation fell through, and I didn’t speak Chinese that week.
You should have two or three partner. If you absolutely can’t find anybody, there are tutors, which are not necessarily professional people but whom you can pay 5 or 10 euros an hour to have conversations.
There are also online teachers who will cost you a bit more than 25 euros or more for an hour. But if you don’t have anyone for a certain period, it’s better than nothing.
3) Build a good relation with your language partner
Remember that the most important is still the quality of your relation.
For instance, not so long ago there was a Chinese guy who started to talk to me (yes I’m learning Chinese) on Tandem, and he had the good idea to record his messages in audio and to write them as well before sending them to me.
It doesn’t really advantage him because it takes him more time to do both, but for me it’s super nice! I find it so adorable, because I can practice my oral comprehension before reading the messages. That’s the kind of great initiative you could do.
So ask yourself what people think they need. There’s this idea coming from the field of advertisement that if you don’t want to bother people and make them receptive to your message, you have to pursue the internal dialogue they had in their mind.
So instead of interrupting them just saying “Hi”, you can tell them why you are starting to talk to them, why is their profile interesting, why and how you can add value to their learning.
It’s just a pure and simple exchange between human beings, but it creates a huge difference. You’re not just saying “hello, please talk to me in your language”, but you will bring something new to that person.
Once again for me, the native speakers I love to talk with are the ones who say “Hey I speak that language you’re learning, you speak French, I really want to learn French, if you want we can practice together… do this and that…” and I’m like “Yeah of course, great”. It makes you want to keep on moving on.
That’s why it’s very important to prepare well your approach. Don’t be afraid to give your all.
Besides, know that on these websites and apps, you can filter. If you’re 50 years old and you notice that people in their twenties don’t answer you because they think you’re too old, just change the settings. Like this you can meet people who are more likely to interest you.
You can filter with the nationalities, age, or even gender. I think gender would be a bit too much, but if you’re a young woman and you’re always getting hit on, of course I understand it can be quite annoying…
You have to be exhaustive: talk to many people, and once you know to whom you want to talk to, filter the criterions thanks to these tools.
With these criterions, you’ll be able to set precise characteristics and abilities to your profile: “My name is… I can contribute this and that to you…”
Above all, don’t hesitate to propose an exercise to your partner.
Indeed, if people don’t answer you after one or two messages, or not at all, it’s because they don’t have everything I talk about in this blog, like methodology, motivation, grammar…
In fact, most of them go in these apps because they want to learn a language, but they don’t really know how to do it, so they don’t necessarily have a lot of motivation. They will try once or twice to talk with foreigners and it won’t go further.
Whereas if you can propose them a certain way to converse that you’ve learned and that can help both of you to progress, you’ll be a big hit.
4) Don’t try to find excuses
If you say “Oh I’ll do it later” or “Oh no, I don’t find anybody…”, well it’s a bad excuse, you stay in your comfort zone. It’s true it can be difficult to find native speakers because it’s a two-person activity. Like, learning vocabulary or grammar, you can do it alone. Working on the pronunciation is a bit more complicate because you also need feedbacks (so native speakers are quite important).
But concerning pure conversation, if you don’t have anyone, you’re screwed. So you might head for a deadlock if you don’t find any partner.
And don’t hesitate to look further. Sometimes I even ask people “Have you ever been near the French embassy, a cultural institute…?” You will definitely find people from France there. If you’re truly motivated, you can always find native speakers around you.
Of course it’s not easy to find motivated people to talk with you regularly. But if you take the step to bring something concrete to them, to teach them you’re mother tongue, that they will progress with you, then they won’t get bored or waste their time.
You must be positive as well, don’t say “Yeah I kinda suck in French” or something like that. Nobody will want to help you that way.
You should have a real intention to also help that person. It will create an exchange that can last for years and years. If I could have such kind of connections with people, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it.