When you study abroad you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to take full advantage of the experience, especially when it comes to improving your language skills. One way to do this is to find a conversation partner in your host country. A conversation partner should be someone who a) is a native speaker and b) wants to practice his or her English, so that the relationship is mutual, and you’re helping one another.
Now you may be thinking, But I’m already practicing my French. Every day, everywhere, all the time, and I don’t doubt that you are. Ask yourself these questions though… and the answers might surprise you. Are the people I talk to in my day to day interactions correcting me? Are they helping me understand my mistakes? Are they teaching me the vocabulary words that I’m lacking? Chances are, the answer to at least one, if not more, of these is no.
(photo by bigfishpresentations.com)
As far as your classmates are concerned, they’re in school to learn too, so teaching probably isn’t on their minds. Outside school, depending on your level of French, others may need to concentrate a little more to understand what you’re saying, just because they’re used to hearing native speakers. It isn’t likely they’ll be correcting you on the spot either with grammatical explanations or the proper etiquette of French linguistics.
Finally, there’s the unfortunate reality of people figuring out that English is your first language and switching to English in conversation simply because it’s faster and they’re impatient- obviously disappointing when you’ve travelled to France to practice your French. This is where the benefits of having a conversation partner come in.
What to look for in a conversation partner
Some study abroad programs offer their students conversation partners as an extracurricular activity, while others have been known to set up exchanges for students when requested. Ask your program. If need be you can set out in search of your own conversation partner.
(A language partner can be anyone. Photo by prezi.com)
Choose carefully. A classmate, friend, relative of your host family, etc., who’s a native French speaker and wants to practice his or her English is an ideal choice, and preferably someone with language goals of their own- aspiring to speak a certain number of hours in English per month, increasing their overall level of fluency, or preparing for an upcoming trip to the U.S for example.
Recommended tips for a successful exchange
*Discuss your goals upfront with one another.
*Share your strengths and weakness, so you’ll each have an understanding of where the other may need extra help or practice. Be specific (maybe there’s one tense in particular that you don’t have a firm grasp of, or you’d like to expand your vocabulary relating to a particular theme or context.)
* Plan to meet regularly and at a minimum of once a week.
*Spend half the time speaking in English and half speaking in French.
*Bring a notebook and jot things down as you learn. You can study/ look back at your notes later.
*Meet in a public place, like the library or a café, etc. Please remember that above all, safety should be your number one concern when you are a student abroad.
(This notebook / calendar is perfect for convo meetups. Photo by industrialbloom.blogspot.com)
By nature, practicing your French with a native speaker who wants to improve his or her English is less intimidating that talking to other native speakers. You’ll be on the same level when it comes to language, so you’ll also be comfortable asking questions and learning from your mistakes. Be attentive when the tables are turned and you find yourself explaining all those idiomatic expressions we use in America and the rules of English grammar. As time goes by you’ll gain the confidence necessary to start speaking French more freely and more often with others, too, until eventually… you might just start sounding like a native speaker yourself.