Being here in New Zealand, I don’t get any opportunities to practice my Spanish or Thai with anyone in my day-to-day life. I could probably find a very infrequent and irregular intercambio(language-exchange) over Skype during the wee hours of the morning when I no longer have any other obligations, but to me it’s just not worth it.
As I have said before, this is not an excuse on my part. It’s a decision. Based on my life style that I want to keep up, finding an intercambio is just so difficult, that I no longer try. I have made peace with that fact.
I don’t want to belabor this pet peeve of mine, but one of the problems I have with so many language learning websites is that they are written by single expats living in the country where they speak the language that they are trying to learn. They are interesting to read and I have no doubt they help me and other, but I think they also reinforces the idea that they can’t learn a language if you are a married with children parent.
One of the things that I am hope to accomplish with this blog is to show everyone that you can still learn a language and make due, even if your life keeps your from using the “best” tools. That is one of many reasons why I blog. I am showing, at the very least to myself, that it can be done. Today I thought I would share an activity that use as the next best thing to an intercambio:
Talk to the wall.
In Thai I call this พูดกับกำแพง(puud gap gampaeng) and in Spanish I call it habla a la pared. Just because someone can’t talk back doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them. The great thing with the wall is that you don’t have to spend half the time speaking in english with it. Walls are great listeners and are very patient with you as a new language learner. I think the wall can give you one of the best intercambios ever.
Speaking to the wall is fun, but there are two things I think you can do to make talking to the wall more effective: Speaking through and Speaking around.
To speak through something I mean that one should speak through your language in abilities. Don’t know how to say a phrase or idiom in your target language? Just go on. Use English, Spanglish or just plain ignore it. The point is that you are trying to practice putting paragraphs of thought together.
I also recommend that you record yourself when you practice this way. You can then go back and write down the words or phrases that gave you difficulty. This lets you create flash cards or make Anki decks of these phrases. The important thing is that you don’t stop to over analyze, just keep talking.
The other way to practice talking to the wall is to talk around your language difficulty without falling back on to your native language as a crutch. Talking around something is so important. When you do get to an opportunity to speak, you will no doubt come across words that you need to say, but don’t know. Let me give an example:
When I was in my first area of Thailand, I was living in a house with 3 other missionaries. Two were more experience and one was as new like me. One night, I was with the other newbie and we had bought some milk and a few other things that needed to stay cold. When we got home we realized that neither one of us had taken the key to the house. We needed to get our stuff into the refrigerator quickly and didn’t have a way to get in contact with the other two missionaries to open the house up.
We went next door to ask to put our stuff in their refrigerator, but when they answered the door, both of us realized that we didn’t know the word for refrigerator. What did I do? I simply asked if he could please put our stuff in his machine that makes things cold. He had no problem understanding me and plus I learned the word for refrigerator, because he told us what it was.
I like to read other people’s blogs, one is the creative langue class. Love to read the ideas of these two teachers on how they teach their students Spanish. Because it gives me ideas on how to improve my spanish. One of those ideas is to make it a game. In her blog she mentions the game is among her students, but I don’t see why you can’t play the game with the wall either.
There you go. Two ways to talk to the wall. I understand that having a real conversation is preferable and you will probably get more out of it. That said, just because you can’t talk to a real person doesn’t mean you can’t improve your target language talking to the wall.