5 steps to take to have your first conversation in a foreign language

Hey guys,

This article has one objective: Help you have your first conversation in a foreign language.

I always thought it was absurd how foreign language was taught in school. They would swarm you with irrelevant vocabulary and grammar rules for months without introducing real-life scenarios. We never had the opportunity to use the vocabulary or grammar we learned. Don’t you remember how by the end of senior year you still couldn’t have a conversation in Spanish? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

It seems to me that foreign language departments in public school systems forgot the real reason why we should learn a foreign language. Let’s remember that the real pleasure of learning a foreign language is using it, It’s communicating our thoughts, feelings and experiences to our friends and native speakers.

Having your first conversation in a foreign language Is an ecstatic moment and it isn’t impossible like the school system lead you to believe, I promise.

Down below I give you 5 practical steps you can take right now (or as soon as you finish this article) to have your first conversation in a foreign language.

Are you ready? Good, Let’s begin.

Learn How to Introduce Yourself

Learning how to introduce yourself is always top priority when it comes to speaking a foreign language. It’s the first thing you do when you enter a conversation. Since my targeted language is Portuguese at the moment, let’s look at some simple vocabulary. If you’re learning a different European language, these steps still apply, so stick with me!

Hey, my name is Ryan | Olá, meu nome é Ryan.

I’m from Florida, United States | Eu sou da Florida, Estados Unidos.

Mind you, I don’t need to know how to properly conjugate verbs just yet. Let that come later. First, learn simple phrases that you can use without fail. Part of introducing yourself, of course, is asking about the other person. After you learn simple introductory phrases, learn simple introductory questions. For example,

What’s your name? | Qual é o teu nome?(informal), Qual é o seu nome?(formal)

Where are you from? | De onde es tu?(informal), De onde voce é?(formal)

How are you? | Como estas? or Tudo bem?

If you’re able to introduce your name and where you’re from and then ask them about themselves, you just had your first small conversation. Simple, isn’t it? Simplicity is all you need in the beginning. Simple introduction phrases that you can repeat every time you meet a new person. Each time your words will flow smoother.

Learn the 25 Most Common Verbs

Verbs are the cornerstone to any language. This why it’s important to find a list of the 25 most common verbs in your targeted language and then commit them to memory.

Go to google and type in, “25 most common verbs in _____”(targeted language)

I found the 25 most common verbs in Portuguese. Here they are,

  1. ser- to be (permanent)
  2. ter- to have
  3. fazer- to do, to make
  4. dizer- to say
  5. estar- to be (temporary)
  6. beber- to drink
  7. ir- to go
  8. saber- to know
  9. poder- can
  10. ver- to see
  11. vir- to come
  12. achar- to think
  13. ficar- to stay/become
  14. querer- to want
  15. dar- to give
  16. ouvir- to hear
  17. deixar- to let
  18. falar- to speak
  19. gostar- to like
  20. passar- to pass
  21. parecer- to appear
  22. sentir- to feel
  23. chegar- to arrive
  24. sair- to leave
  25. comer- to eat

After you write the 25 verbs make sure to conjugate them as well. Start with simple present tense and build from there to future and past tenses.

Are you learning,

  1. Spanish
  2. French
  3. Italian
  4. German

Make Flash Cards of the Top 1,000 Common words.

I get it, flash cards may not be your thing, especially 1,000 of them. Just think you’re making them for your own self-interest, not for a teacher’s test in middle school Spanish class.

Start with 100 flash cards, but make sure you write them out, and review them on a daily basis. This will help you become familiar with the overall language. You’ll learn nouns, verbs, prepositions, adjectives, ect, instead of being in the dark not knowing which vocabulary to learn first. If you want to take it a step further, write a simple sentence you can see yourself using on each flash card.

Writing out the top 1,000 most common words with sentences may seem like a lot, but I assure you that it’s worth it. By reviewing your flash cards daily, you will be able to recall words and verb conjugations must faster than if you didn’t.

Top 1,000 common words

Are you learning,

  1. Portuguese
  2. Spanish
  3. French
  4. Italian
  5. German

Read Out Loud

Reading out loud can help tremendously. Instead of reading the flash cards in your head, say them out loud. This will help your pronunciation and confidence when use the words you practiced in a real conversation.

Another way of taking advantage of reading out loud is when you use a language learning app like Duolingo or Tandem. Every word and phrase that appears on your screen say out loud to practice continuously. I like tandem for this purpose because it allows you to communicate with real people. You can practice vocabulary, forming sentences, and pronunciation all at once in a conversational context.

It also helps to watch YouTube videos that go through vocabulary lists. Listen and following along on how to correctly pronounce certain words. You can also practice saying a word or phrase in different tones to exercise various scenarios you could see yourself in.

Use these apps:

  1. Duolingo
  2. Tandem
  3. Rosetta Stone

Watch Vlogs and Podcasts

Vlogs use conversational language which is why you should watch them to learn a foreign language. It doesn’t matter so much that you won’t understand the majority of what they’re saying, the idea is so to expose yourself to as much vocabulary as possible. Listen to how the vlogger introduces the episode and look for contextual information to get an idea what he/she is talking about.

Podcasts are even better than vlogs for two reasons. The first reason is because it’s a conversation between two people that you can listen to from beginning to end in real time flow. The second reason is because it isn’t heavily edited. The more you listen the more you’ll hear familiar words you can use later on.

Favorite Portuguese Podcasts

  1. Janela Aberta
  2. Maluca Beleza

Favorite Spanish Vlogs

  1. Espanol Con Juan
  2. Alanxelmundo

Besides learning how to introduce yourself, making flash cards, reading out loud, watching vlogs and podcasts, there’s only two other things you need to remember.

The first is to never have shame. When I first started learning Portuguese my Avó would always tell me, “Não tem vergonha. só falar e não te preocupes.” Which means, Don’t have shame, just speak and don’t worry. Part of learning a language is making mistakes, and theres no reason to be ashamed of that. Make the mistakes, learn from them and keep speaking!

The second is to make a genuine effort. People will appreciate that you make an effort to speak their native language. Even if you’re struggling to find the right words, the fact you’re trying demonstrates your intentions and persistence to learn the language. You’ll find that people are patient and willing to help you learn.

If you don’t have shame and make a genuine effort theres no way you won’t have that first conversation.

Good luck, guys

Cheers, Ryan Q

Published by

Ryan Quaresma

Writing to understand | Photographing to remember

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