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

5 Tell-Tale Signs You’re on the Way to Fluency in a Foreign Language

Hey guys,

My goal in this article is to reassure those of you learning a second language that you will get there. I promise.

Language learning is a life long process when you think about it, and I understand just how frustrating it can be, especially when you’re not sure how you’re progressing or even how to measure that progress.

It takes some time and of course patience. Down below I list 5 tell-tale signs you’re on the path towards fluency.

Here they are:

1.You catch yourself thinking in that language.

If you catch yourself thinking in your targeted language, not only is it an exciting realisation but its also one of the best ways to know all the studying and learning you’ve been doing is paying off. Whether you’re just beginning to learn a second language or you’re at an advanced level, thinking in your second language means your brain is processing and recalling sensible information. A beginner, for example, might name objects in their field of view and repeat basic, yet valuable phrases whereas a more advanced student may catch themselves commenting/narrating their experiences.  In both cases, bravo to you! 

2. You’re able to finish someone else’s sentence. 

The other day I ran into an interesting situation where a colleague and I were talking about something work-related and as she responded to what I was saying, I knew what she was going to say and how she was going to say it. It was a speech synchronicity. It happens all the time in our first languages, but very rarely when we’re learning how to speak a foreign language. When it does happen it feels as if you’re fully with the conversation. If you’re able to predict or expect a certain response from someone it not only means you understand the structure of the language, but it also means you’re recognising speech patterns…which is a huge step in mastering a second language!

3. You have a dream in your targeted language. 

  Theres a lot of discussion whether or not dreaming in a foreign language signifies fluency, however in my experience I never had dreams in Portuguese until about six months into my studies. On top of that, in my dream I was surrounded by bilingual friends who were correcting and teaching me. Dreaming in your targeted language may not mean fluency, but it does mean that you’re storing the information in the unconscious part of your mind. If you dream in the language you’re learning I would interpret that as a positive sign that you’re on the right track! 

4. You’re not translating word for word anymore.

  The fourth sure sign you’re on the right path to mastering a second language is the moment you’re not trying to translate word for word. One of the biggest frustrations of language learning is translating the vocabulary and grammatical structure from your native tongue to your targeted language. This Is necessary at first, but the more you hear familiar sounds (words and phrases) in familiar contexts, the less you have to think and translate. Repetition is the name of the game here. Once you’ve heard and said something enough times it becomes effortless. You’re not thinking about what verb endings you have to use and whether or not a word is masculine or feminine.

5. You feel confident in familiar situations

Perhaps you’re not yet able to talk about complicated, open ended topics like philosophy, science or politics, but you do well in certain familiar situations like ordering food, getting coffee and asking for directions. Maybe you’re confident in talking about what you’re going to do today, but not so much about what you did yesterday. I wouldn’t stress if you’re in this position. On the contrary I would be excited! I think this is a good place to be because it shows what you already know and what you need to work on improving. There’s no shame in knowing your weak points. Now you can focus more of your time and energy on becoming well rounded! 

6. BONUS* Feeling doubtful with your progress

By the time I finished writing the fifth I wanted to include one more that I believe will hit just right.  Learning a foreign language is a daunting task. There’s so much to learn that it can be beyond frustrating-overwhelming even, complete demoralisation. For me, learning Portuguese has been one of the most difficult things Ive attempted to do and there’s been times where I questioned why I even started learning this language in the first place. Yet each time I’ve asked myself this I reflect on how much It’s given back.

The people I’ve met- the amount of pure joy and fulfilment learning a second language has brought me is unparalleled. So, If you get to the point where you find yourself in doubt questioning your ability and reasons for starting, you’ve probably been learning the language long enough to know how rewarding it is despite the difficulty. You know it’s worth it, and thats the sign to keep going! 

I hope you guys found reassurance from this article! Remember to be patient and give a genuine effort. I promise you that you will reach fluency in due time. Let me know in the comments any other signs I didn’t list that you’ve found to signify progress!


Ryan Q