5 useful ways to practice languages when you don’t know native speakers

Why it’s important to practice speaking

A key part of learning a language to fluency is practicing with a native speaker. Talking to native speakers helps you improve pronunciation, learn natural grammar, and broaden your vocabulary. However, when we learn a new language from scratch, it’s sometimes difficult to find people lear us who speak the language we are learning. How then, can we learn and practice a language without the help of a native speaker? Here are 5 tried and tested tips.

1. Shadowing videos and podcasts

If you’d like to practice speaking skills, shadowing is an excellent way to do so. Shadowing means listening to audio and repeating exactly what and how the native speaker says something. If it’s intimidating to repeat something that’s long and above your level, start with beginner content. You can find language lessons on YouTube and repeat what the teacher says. I like the Easy Languages channel because the videos are always in a natural setting and there are bilingual subtitles. A polyglot I admire is Prof Alexander Arguelles (I’ve mentioned him before in my post about the Polyglot Conference). He has an in-depth video explanation about shadowing here.

Shadowing works well when you have a transcript alongside a video or podcast. It’s important to be able to see what you hear and repeat. For Korean learners, I recommend the Spongemind YouTube channel and Podcast. Johnson from Spongemind creates transcripts for each episode that you can request. We had a chat on his channel recently and you can request the transcript for it directly from the Spongemind site.


2. Talking to yourself, your pets, or Siri

Did you know you can change the language that Siri speaks? Sometimes when I’m bored, I change the language and have a nice chat in different languages with Siri. You don’t need to worry about making mistakes – a robot won’t judge you – and you can test your pronunciation and grammar to see if Siri will know what you’re saying.

Talking to yourself is fine too – if you make sure to look up words you’re stuck on! You can also talk to your pets, like asking your dog if they’re going outside, telling your cat you’re going to give it new food, etc. This helps you think of words you might not know, and reminds you of words you’ll use often in daily life. Ask yourself questions about what you’re doing, describe what you’re thinking, or write your shopping list in your target language. 

3. Try talking to a chatbot!

One of my favorite apps for language learning is Ling. There’s a chatbot function which allows you to “talk” and practice conversations. Of course, talking to a real native speaker will be more natural and fun, but this is good practice when you’re a beginner and want to write down key phrases, when you’re shy to talk to a real person, or when you just want a better feel of the language before you are ready to speak. The app has different topics you can choose to practice. After going through a conversation, I like to write down the sentences in my notebook, practice them, and replace some words with new ones so I can make my own phrases. 

Ling has vocabulary with audio, conversation practice, a chatbot and more. Get 7 days free on a subscription of Ling here.

Learn with Ling

4. Write something and get corrections

Two apps I use to get corrections on my writing on are HiNative and HelloTalk. All you need to do is post something you’ve written and there will be a bunch of people who are ready to correct your mistakes. Take the time to thank them, write down what you learn, and maybe say hello to start a conversation. Alternatively, you can try other language exchange apps like Tandem or a website like MyLanguageExchange or Penpalworld to meet native speakers and practice talking to them.

5. Follow native speakers on social media

Whenever I learn a new language, I make a point of following a bunch of Twitter and Instagram accounts of people who speak the language I learn. If they post content relevant to my interests, it gives me a way in to comment on something and maybe message them to start an online friendship. Don’t be shy to contact native speakers online if you have stuff in common! If you’re struggling to find native speakers, you can connect with fellow language learners online too – there’s always something you can learn from someone who’s also learning the language you are.

You can also learn a lot from fellow language learners who aren’t native speakers. It’s OK if you’re both still learning the language – it’s still an opportunity to practice and learn from each other. Twitter, again, is a lovely place to meet language learners! 

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3 responses to “5 useful ways to practice languages when you don’t know native speakers”

  1. glossamou Avatar

    Thanks for these great tips, Lindie!! I’ll definitely try the shadowing method. 🙂

  2. […] You can find more ideas on practising language alone in Lindie Botes article. […]

  3. Florence Avatar

    Those are really interesting (and new) ideas, thanks a lot, notes taken!

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