6 effective Ways to ImProve Conversational Skills in a New Language

Here’s a problem most people run into trying to learn a new language:

They want to be able to communicate with ease: both understand what they hear and express what they think.

But they aren’t often around people who speak that language.

How does someone get the conversation experience that they need?

I’ll offer a few tips I used to learn French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Traveling Isn’t Always Necessary

It is really nice to be totally immersed in Kreyol Ayisyen or Español Cubano when you’re trying to get regular practice.

But speaking Portuguese in Salvador is not the only way to learn and practice your conversational skills.

Fortunately, the internet makes it really easy for us to dive in

Opportunities are everywhere if you use online resources and think a little bit creatively.

How To Get the Experience

Let's consider other methods other than online courses. Here's how to get that experience speaking and listening.


Watch Videos  Online:

I make a playlist of movies and tv shows in my language of choice on Netflix, Hulu or YouTube.

I set the subtitles to that language, my native language or turn them off.

While this is great for my listening comprehension skills, I repeat words, phrases and sentences that I hear, so I’m practicing my pronunciation as well.

Plenty of people all over the world say they learned English this way, so this is my go-to method. With enough movies, I get a good grasp of the language with the help of context clues. Plus I get to feel really productive binge-watching tv.


Listen to Podcasts and Talk Radio Stations: 

When I’m doing something super boring like washing the dishes, I turn on my RFI or Brazil Radio app and listen to the news.

Even if I tune out a bit, it's great to unconsciously take in another language.

The key to making the most of this is finding podcasts or radio stations where people are talking about things I'm interested in.

This is all listening with no visual cues so it’s really difficult, but I do love a good challenge.


Talk with a native on Italki:

I video chat with teachers all over the world.

Italki is one of my absolute favorite tools. I can choose a teacher from any country speaking any language in any dialect.

This improves my speaking and listening comprehension skills dramatically! And it's so cool to meet new people while I'm at it.

The teachers vary from professional language teachers to regular people who'll hold conversations with you. You pay for credits, then you can schedule a time to meet up online, usually through Skype.


Talk to a friend who knows just as much as you:

I like to have conversations with friends who are about my same level or better.

The self-imposed pressure of needing someone to actually understand what I can say in my head helps me try my best to articulate myself.

My conversational skills really get a good workout.

Truthfully, the first couple times can feel super awkward, but I find that it works best if we pick a topic in advance and I can practice what I want to say, so I don’t draw a complete blank.


Teach a friend who knows less than you:

My mom knows very little French, so when she asks me something, like what time it is, and I know how to say it in French, I just say it: il est trois heures vingt-quatre.

Even if I completely butcher it, she doesn’t know, is impressed by my multilingual abilities. Grazie, mamma.

The advantage is that I get to practice what I know without feeling embarrassed.

People love learning new things, so I don’t have to be fluent by any means to teach some basics to a beginner.

Plus, teaching motivates me to learn more, so I always end up with a few new words to share.


Record yourself speaking or reading out loud:

Sometimes, I’m just not ready to talk to people, so I record myself.

I'll pull up an article and read it aloud, or just talk into the mic about whatever I want.

When I'm done, I play back the recording and listen to myself go!

It's easy to get stuck cringing at the sound of my voice, but I always make sure to congratulate myself for good pronunciation, correct verb conjugation, nice flow, interesting idiomatic expression, cool slang usage, or just solid effort.


Bonus: If you're not already doing it, change your default language on Facebook.

I’m on Facebook more than I care to admit to. Because of this, I can take advantage of my consistency by changing the default language to the what I'm learning.

It's pretty simple. Just go to your Facebook, click on the down arrow at the top right, select Settings and then Languages on the left. You'll have the option to change what language you want to use Facebook in.


Just reading an article or texting “quiubo, parce” to a friend in your language of choice is a good start, but you’ll run into a wall especially if you're not fully immersed in that language. What is necessary is upping your listening and speaking skills in creative ways!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What tips and tools do you have for language learners? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Remember, share your ideas and comments in as much detail as possible in your reply. People like you come here each week for insight and inspiration and your story may help someone have an a-ha! moment.

Thank you for reading and adding your voice to the conversation.