I’m all for hidden gems.
Little coffee shops, bookshops in tiny, colourful alleys, a secret beach with emerald waters or a local family bakery that leads you there just by the smell of fresh baked bread.
They all have this one thing in common: Few people know about them because it’s hard to get there.
And to get there, we often assume we need a map. A map with a well-thought route. To get there, we often think there is only one way, otherwise it’s easy to get lost.
You see the problem here, don’t you?
Every time I found a hidden gem - a bookshop, a beach, a coffee shop in a small πλατεία far from crowds and noise - it wasn’t because I followed the same route.
It was because I was led there by curiosity, excitement and a sense of adventure. No mistake, hidden gems want to be found this way and they will compensate you with a satisfying sense of accomplishment.
By the way, there is nothing more annoying than the person next to you who holds the map and tells you “no, we must go this way, this is the one and only way!”
Let’s take this analogy to language learning - because, why not?
You say to yourself: “I want to speak Greek! How I wish there was a person sitting next to me right now, so I could practice. How I wish I were at a Greek café happily chatting. It’s just so bad I can’t practice what I learn, because I don’t have anyone to talk to”.
Okay I might have added a little Greek drama here. While I’m sure you’d love to be at a Greek café right now and while I’m sure you do want someone to talk to in Greek, things don’t look so grim.
It’s true we often think there’s only one way to practice speaking and that is: talking with a native speaker.
Just like the person who stubbornly persists on the one and only way to get to the hidden gem/tiny bookshop/secret beach (and spoils all the fun), we convince ourselves that there’s no other way around it: in order to improve our speaking, we must speak with a Greek.
But it makes me a bit sad thinking that all other skills in language are gifted with creative ways of practicing them - but not poor speaking. Which is, usually, the skill most of us want to practice and use as soon as possible.
We can write on our textbook or even journal in Greek whenever we want, read an article in Greek if we feel like it, pick a song we like or watch a TV show ...but how can we speak daily?
So, we’re left with fill in the blank activities, yes or no answers, reading and writing texts and an overall disorientation, which leads us far from our destination (the hidden gem of speaking).
What if we could do things a bit differently? What if we could take another, not so obvious way and be a bit brave and adventurous about it? What if we could actually say out loud those new expressions we’ve learned, the new vocabulary we studied, the couple of new phrases we’ve noted down?
What if we could imitate speaking to someone?
A few years ago I was introduced to this idea for practicing speaking: Recordings.
It’s so simple, really.
You basically record yourself speaking the language.
I’ve tried it too with English and a bit with Dutch and here’s what I found:
Recordings are great. They can make an amazing speaking practice. But only if done right.
I challenge you today to record yourself speaking Greek after you read this article. But let me share first a few things I’ve learned along the way. They’ll help you stay focused and keep this activity simple.
As with all our learning, consistency is key. Recordings are no exception and we need to use them a few times to include them in our way of studying.
We’ll find that it gets easier as we go and that at the end of the month or the trimester we have a solid amount of recordings, a proof of our progress and learning.
Now, don’t think I’m talking about a rigid schedule here. I’m by no means a strict schedule person when it comes to enjoying a language (some people might enjoy the strict study schedule, I don’t).
Just remember to record yourself a few times to get used to it and then it will organically become part of your learning.
By staying consistent you’ll have the advantage of actually monitoring your progress.
With monitoring in mind, recordings can boost our self-confidence.
I bet you’ll find it miraculous how on recording no1 you stumbled on this and that expression but recording no10 you used them without even thinking about them.
It’s gratifying and makes you want to move on. And because it’s like a rehearsal in a quiet studio, it gives you the time to practice and repeat words, expressions and pronunciation you want to get right in an actual discussion.
You might be asking: What should I talk about? Well, think of this: What do you want to talk about? How can you find the right vocabulary around that topic? Is there a question you‘d like to answer or even a topic for discussion you’d like to analyze a bit?
A mistake I made with my recordings - and I don’t want you to make too - was that I just started talking about whatever came to my mind, without a plan.
Although this might be okay for some learners, for me it wasn’t motivating.
Choosing one thing or topic helps you stay focused, make more efficient connections between the new or revised words & their meaning and reduces the overwhelm of trying to include everything in one sitting.
#4 Realistic expectations
Imagine if I were downtown, looking for the aforementioned little coffee shop. Would I expect to find the secret beach with the emerald waters? Of course not. Even hidden gems have their limitations.
But it’s easy to get excited and say “Oh, recordings! Great idea. Yes, I’ll do this!” and then imagine yourself talking and talking only to find out later that you can barely speak on the recorder for one minute.
One minute is surprisingly a lot, by the way. Instagram videos, for example, are one minute long, yet they fit in so much information.
Start with small steps. Talk about one specific topic or question. Use a certain number of words or expressions. Take advantage of the time you have in front of the recorder to say what you want to say without interruptions and with no one listening.
#5 Be brave
Now, I’m one of those people who usually panic behind the mic or the camera. It’s just what happens, even when no one’s listening!
What I realized however is that the voice that terrifies me the most, is the voice of my perfectionism.
Recordings are meant to be liberating. But when this little voice creeps in, we freeze and then start the negative self-talk.
If you find yourself in a vicious cycle of hitting play - stop - delete, be brave and push a bit more. It’s the point where you need to allow yourself accept your mistakes and embrace your imperfections.
And when this happens just between you and the recorder, you know you’re a step closer to your hidden gem of speaking in real-life situations.
So go ahead and record yourself today.
Be consistent with this new activity
Monitor your progress and gain some precious self-confidence along the way
Focus on just one thing
Be realistic about your expectations
Be brave and move past your perfectionism
Are you ready?
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