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Practice is important, but what if people keep switching back to your own language? Will you ever be able to speak to anyone if they don't even want to speak back to you?
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The most rewarding way of practicing your language is by connecting with people on a 1-to-1 basis. It takes commitment to make any language exchange successful.
In this episode of the Fluent Show, Lindsay and I brought on language exchange expert Jonathan Huggins, who runs several community challenges and groups for language learners.
Speaking in other languages is harder than it looks at first. You can read books and study flashcards, and still choke when you speak to a real person.
It can be difficult to practice pronunciation and have conversations on a regular basis. Tutors are awesome, but your lesson time is limited. And many apps and bots make us feel detached.
Speechling claims to have cracked that problem. This new app offers speaking skill training, attractive design, and the most convenient access to a real person tutor that I have ever seen. No scheduling, no exchange of Skype names.
Sounds good, but does it work? In this review, let's take a deep dive and find out.
How does Speechling Work?
Speechling's courses use sentence repetition, a premise that you may know from fellow Fluent favourite Glossika. But there is a twist: Speechling includes feedback on everything you record, from an actual human.
After repeating the sentence you see and hear on the screen, you have the choice of listening back to your pronunciation, or to save it for coaching. After you save your recording, you will receive feedback and tips from a Speechling coach.
How I Tested The App
Speechling's six language options gave me the chance to test ot for at different levels:
- Advanced (French),
- Confident Beginner(Russian)
- Absolute Beginner (Chinese).
The Advanced Learner Test: French
In French, my language level is around B2-C1 on the CEFR. I can navigate most conversations without hiccups, and I know for a fact that speaking French is what I need the most.
So for my level, saying a few sentences every day at my own convenience was perfect.
The live feedback here was eye-opening. I have an optimistic blind spot to my own weaknesses in pronunciation and word choice. I always learnt French in academic environments, so I produce great grammar. But in reality, my spoken French sounds textbook and a little uncomfortable. The coach feedback made me more aware of my little mistakes without discouraging me completely. I felt encouraged to try again, to fix what I was saying and carry on.
With the freestyle mode, I got to practice free speech instead of repeating pre-written sentences. In the dictation feature, I added listening comprehension at natural speeds.
The Confident Beginner Test: Russian
Russian is a language I studied about two years ago and I was able to have very basic exchanges (“what did you have for breakfast?” - “I had porridge”, that kind of stuff). I pronounce words correctly, and can read Cyrillic. So with this language, I wanted to see
- if Speechling can teach me something new and
- if my pronunciation is accurate.
The module I chose was “Beginner (A1)”, which was a great entry point after a few years off. With each repetition, I felt like I was learning. The examples were well pronounced, came at a speed that felt like a suitable challenge, and soon I was improving.
I also felt that pronouncing each new word immediately helped me remember it, especially when I added a recording. The accountability of recording and coaching (“someone will actually hear this”) helped me link the phrase with a strong emotion. For more about how emotions amplify memory, check out my interview with Gabriel Wyner from Fluent Forever.
With a language like Russian, you need regular exposure to stay comfortable with the alphabet and pronunciation. Speechling surprised me here because it felt like the perfect tool. There were so many sentences I had never said before, and so many opportunities for me to improve.
Best of all, I was speaking Russian right there and then without any hesitation.
Of course, exposure to lots of sentences won't teach me more than lots of sentences. If I wanted to get back into Russian and start making steady progress, I would definitely use Speechling and I would add a textbook, dictionary, grammar explanations, and lots of input resources.
The Absolute Beginner Test: Chinese
Chinese is the only language out of Speechling’s range that I have never studied, so I decided to go for the “simplified” version. Does that mean easy Chinese? No idea, but it's worth a try. The module I chose was “Beginner (A1)”, as there was no way of picking anything even easier.
With Chinese, Speechling shows the sentences in Hanzi (Chinese characters). There is also the option of viewing the sentence in pinyin. Good job - it was the only way I could even start to guess at repeating the sounds I was hearing.
For a complete beginner like me, the sentences were interesting. I had to repeat the audio input 4-5 times before I dared to repeat the sounds. Surely, any Chinese speaker would be impressed?
Speaking Chinese to a Chinese Native After 5 Minutes
Well, I do know a Chinese speaker so I was ready to shine. Having newly acquired the sentence 今天很温暖 (“it’s warm today”), I asked my co-working buddy to listen to my Chinese and tell me if it’s correct. And he did understand what I was saying, although “impressed” would be stretching the truth a bit.
I also sent my recorded sentence to the Chinese coach, who drew my attention to the specific parts I got wrong.
Learning mass sentences as a complete beginner isn’t ideal. It leaves you without a sense of what each word means (which one out of jin tian hen nuan huo is “warm”, which one is “today”....and what do any of those symbols mean?). Learners don't get to understand what any of the rules of speaking are. But that’s okay, as Speechling not designed for that. This tool is a great confidence builder and accent sharpener. I could imagine it as a fantastic basis for tutoring, sending students away with homework on a topic.
If you have studied more than one of Speechling’s range of languages, you can view translations in any of the six languages. This means you get to practice two languages at once, and it’s one of easiest ways to train your polyglot muscles.
Downsides of Speechling
On several occasions, my recordings were too long to be saved for feedback. This is understandable, but it was frustrating particularly in the freestyle mode. It’s disappointing when you say a complex sentence to send to your coach, and then get a message saying “file too large - cannot save”. It would be great if Speechling could include a guide on how long I can record for.
For languages where I knew nothing at all, I’d also like to see a primer module so I understand what I'm doing. But this is a tiny point, especially since Speechling is not aimed at complete beginners.
In Conclusion: Speechling is Great
All in all, I found Speechling a great addition to my studies. It was challenging and helped me improve my pronunciation and speaking skills in three languages. I was most excited about what Speechling could do for my Russian language skills. I improved both my vocabulary and accent, and the process was efficient and fast.
Speechling is free from robot voices and works with male and female voices (native speakers, of course). Its interface looks great and it gets you into the action immediately.
I love the record-feedback cycle, because it prompts you to re-record a better version of what you said. You get feedback, and you improve pronunciation, confidence, and speed.
The coaches were great for all the languages I tried. They recorded speedy corrections. At the very early levels, feedback is not rich, because they are native speakers and they use their native languages. But even so, it was clear where exactly I was supposed to change something. The more you learn, the more you will get out of these coaches.
If you work with a tutor that you don’t see every day, definitely try adding Speechling to your language routine. You will be speaking your target language more, you'll build a better accent. And best of all, pronouncing all the new words will help you remember them faster.
How to Get Started (+ Speechling Discount)
Create a free account and start speaking at Speechling.com, or by download the app from the App Store or Google Play Store.
Speechling is currently available in six languages: French, German, Spanish, English, Russian, and two types of Chinese.
It’s a freemium app, and you get 15-20 minutes of feedback for free every month. I would recommend checking out the paid plan (see below for 10% off) if you want to
- get a speaking boost, especially when there’s a deadline
- learn more than one language at once
- keep track of your progress with the audio journal.
The unlimited plan is open to Fluent readers at a 10% Lifetime discount: Make sure you use the code FLUENT when you sign up.
Good to know: Speechling is a non-profit company and also has a classroom version called Speechling for Education. I have an existing relationship with Speechling as they are a sponsor of my podcast. This only influenced the amount of attention the product received, not the verdict. It is a cool app.
Have You Tried Speechling?
Are you a pronunciation master now? How did you like the coach feedback? Leave a comment below and share your story.
***hello from the future!!***
Since my original review of Speechling in February 2018, these folks have been hard at work and have just emailed me to share the following new developments.
1. A new module called "Speechling Foundations", which will teach newbies from the very beginning. This start from zero module covers teaches the most essential words in context.
2. New listening options: Speechling now offers listening comprehension, multiple choice, fill in the blank, and flashcards. It's all available for free without login. All of this works on mobile too.
3. More language! They've more than tripled our content collection.
4. Offline mode!! Premium users can download a huge chunk of Speechling’s sentence collection (~10k sentences) and even audio books and Anki decks .
I love it when an app listens to its users, this alone makes it worth checking out!
In this interview with Gabriel Wyner, you will get to know the story of "Fluent Forever", the approach he takes to language learning, and a little bit about what makes him tick as a person.Read More
This post is a guest article from Tim Wenger, and I was bowled over by his motivating and positive attitudes about networking. We often hear how this can benefit people in their career, but have you ever thought to use your network by mentioning languages in the same way? Tim has some awesome tips here.Read More
I've been looking forward to publishing today's review for a few months now - it's a favourite language course among polyglots.
Here's the short version of my verdict: If you've been frustrated because you can't find a way to speak your target language, this is perfect. Buy and use Glossika courses and you will be chatting in no time - the system works when you speak.
In my review, I was as neutral-bordering-on-skeptical about the Glossika courses as I am about any others. I don't write reviews about things I don't like. It's often the same marketing that we're bombarded with in this space: fluency, science, natural learning, immersion, blablabla.
But here's the thing: Sometimes something just works.
What Are Glossika Courses Like?
This isn't really a language explainer like my own German courses. The method is all GO, sentence-based and very heavy on the audio. You will hear a sentence and be prompted to repeat it - that's the 2 second version of it.
This simple task of repeating input will solve your #1 problem of having nothing to say. TA DAH fluency.
Glossika isn't for the very early language beginner - if you're looking for a starter, try something like Language Hacking books. This is a method I see as perfect for anyone who's sick of language learning theory and wants to start getting as much practice as quickly as possible.
Sound familiar? Yep. That's the biggest problem adult language learners face.
Does it Work?
My own experiences with the method started with a similar system called Say Something in Welsh, which I've been using for about a year. The method of prompting realistic and natural sample sentences with a native speaker is the Glossika principle, and if you're a Welsh learner you have GOT to get yourself a copy of this right now.
I mentioned the system to my long-term student Randy (who you can hear in podcast Episode 6), he decided to give it a try. Randy's situation might be very similar to yours: a busy person fitting in weekly language study and conversation practice around. He tested Glossika 123 German.
"This course is a bargain for the amount of material you receive. In my opinion, it provides more study material for your money than any other course I have tried (and I have tried just about every one available)." "Of all the self-learning courses I have used, this one is the best. It has the widest range of content and gives me the best opportunity to speak German when I am alone."
Speaking when you've got no one to speak to is an ENORMOUS trick in language learning, and Glossika has taken out the awkwardness.
And here's the thing I can see in Randy, my "test subject": The difference is striking! Within a week or two, I noticed a transformation in his confidence level. Randy found himself cutting out hesitation, he was no longer getting stuck in the middle of his sentences because of one or two missing words. He's made a HUGE jump by activating all of that passive knowledge in his mind.
Glossika is Gold for Intermediate Learners
Glossika's website has impressive claims listed, with accounts such as "400% progress". So can you become a fully rounded expert in a language in a short amount of time using this method?
I'd say yes - if you've been putting in the work. Glossika has this way of unlocking the knowledge you hold within yourself, and it will teach you a million new things.
The language learning process is one of learning lots of new links and having to put them together differently. It's a lot of input, but even more creativity. You can quickly use any method based on repeating audio prompts in order to boost and develop your speaking confidence.
So being fluent in another language also means being able to understand patterns and build your own sentences (in academic terms, you have do develop procedural knowledge). The better you are at pattern spotting and working out the rules, the easier it will be to fit that language jigsaw together.
In conclusion, this is one time when the hype could be real. When you hear accounts of learners who made significant leaps with Glossika within days, you can believe them. This is the experience I witnessed in my students and in myself.
But if you were only using Glossika and nothing else, you might find yourself a fluent parrot rather than a flexible conversationalist. My advice would be to pair this method with a conventional course, ensure you read the transcripts and follow up with grammar points that don't make sense.
Why I'm Convinced You Should Try This
Glossika builds your speaking confidence at a rapid pace, gets you used to a native voice, and challenges you throughout. The payoff for language learners who don't have time and access to regular meet-ups is remarkable, as I've seen with Randy and with myself.
I would recommend the Glossika method for all of you who have spent many hours reading, listening, maybe even writing your target language. If you find yourself hesitating in mid-sentence and you want to feel confident and fluent, this is absolutely perfect.
And for me as a tutor, it's been a godsend to recommend to experienced students.
Polyglots Will LOVE This
The range of languages on offer from Glossika are unrivalled. They don't just offer the classic set of English, French, German, Russian and Chinese. Instead, Glossika is currently available in over 30 languages. The range of languages on offer from Glossika are unrivalled. They don't just offer the classic set of English, French, German, Russian and Chinese. Instead, Glossika is currently available in over 30 languages. Randy, who's tried and bought dozens of materials, also said
This course is a bargain for the amount of material you receive. In my opinion, it provides more study material for your money than any other course I have tried.
That number up there isn't even complete yet, as Glossika currently has 46 (!) other language courses in development. I am incredibly impressed by this much commitment to languages from all over the globe, and to celebrating the world's diversity. No matter which language and which country you are interested in, the amazing Glossika range will give you a speaking boost from anywhere in the world.
Have You Tried Glossika Before?
I'd love to hear if you're a Glossika user too. Which language are you studying? How did you find it? Tell me over on Twitter or right here in the comments.
PS: There is no Welsh version yet, but Welsh learners who haven't tried Say Something in Welsh should get themselves over there RIGHT NOW. You're missing out, guys.
We've all been there: You're up for half an hour of speaking practice in your target language, and right after you say hello, you notice the first mistake tumble out. Not good. Now they think you're an idiot, and you've forgotten the word for "bread" and while you're racking your brain that pause becomes longer and your cheeks are glowing red. Time for the ground to open up!
If all that sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. Millions of language learners experience embarrassment when it comes to speaking practice. Especially when you're trying out your language in another country, it's almost impossible to feel prepared.
My personal threshold for embarrassment seems to be pretty high in most social situations, I have also experienced that crippling sense of looking truly foolish.
I won't get into that one time on a Russian airplane where the air hostess shouted incomprehensible things at me, I smiled throughout with lots of "da, da"...and later found out that they had been debating whether I could safely fly considering they thought I was pregnant. The shame!
But fear not, I've got some good advice to share with you today.
If you're ready to start saying no to embarrassment when speaking another language, here are four tips to help you feel better:
1) Prepare Your Speaking Partner
Chances are you are already pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone by speaking in another language. There is no need to add further discomfort to your challenge by talking to someone who is unlikely to support you. Strangers at the ticket counter, crazy air hostesses and even strict teachers are not the right people to choose for conversation practice when you are suffering from social anxiety or embarrassment.
Instead, try and hold on to what makes you feel comfortable right now. It helps to share your worries with your speaking partner before you start having to speak your target language. If it's a tutor, this will prompt them to be more patient and hold back on the corrections. If it's a friend, it can remind them to slow down and let you build your sentences slowly.
This technique of preparing your partner will help both of you feel more at ease, and ready to tackle this challenge together.
2) Focus On Your Breath
When anxious sensations take hold, your body responds by tensing up, raising your heartbeat and even causing you to sweat and blush. That's the last thing you need when you are already worried about the many ways in which you're about to lose face.
Instead of freaking out about all the words you remember or forget, the best course of action is a simple calming exercise.
Focus on something that is real and constant, for example your own breath. Breathe in slowly for 4 seconds, retain your breath for 2 seconds if you can, and enjoy a long and restorative out breath for 8 seconds. Breathing exercises may not feel like the right tool for a foreign language panic, but you'll be surprised at how much language skill returns once that mental stormcloud is allowed to pass.
For more tips and techniques that help with overcoming stress and anxiety, try the SAM app on your smartphone. It's a little toolkit of instant self-help.
3) Build Up Your Filler Vocabulary
Filler sentences are a wonderful tool when you are getting ready for speaking practice. They're usually uncomplicated, short, easy to remember and very effective. Think of filler sentences as the extra cushioning that is built into conversations so each speaker gets some time to relax. In English, these are lines like "hold on", "let me think for a second" or "let me think".
As a little treat for the German learners among you, I've collected a bunch of fillers and stock sentences in the "Make Your German Sound Amazing" booklet, which you can download for free.
But what should you do if you haven't understood half of what your speaking partner just said?
You can buy yourself a little time by repeating the last words of their sentence, stretched out with some "Hm" sounds. This may tide you over until you can remember how to proceed, for example by asking them to repeat what they just said. It's perfectly acceptable for you to control some aspects of the conversation even if you don't know your target language very well yet.
Even if you follow every single one of the tips above, that feeling of embarrassment is unlikely to just dissolve into thin air. You may still feel discomfort in new situations, and it's still embarrassing to make mistakes. There's no way around this one: At some point, your only way is forward and right through the bad feelings.
Luckily, there is plenty of reward waiting for you on the other side, as you realize that your mistakes and awkward pauses did not cause the ground to open up and swallow you whole.
If you want to push your boundaries and go for speaking practice in a brand new situation, why not take advantage of your next trip abroad? We've got plenty of travel language tips on Episode 41 of the podcast.
Even better, put yourself into an immersion experience with other learners, for example in the Fluent German Retreat led by yours truly. These retreats aim to create a speaking environment that pushes your boundaries without embarrassment, helping you to realize how good you actually are.
It's Not Easy, But It's Worth It
These tips are just a few examples of the many small steps you can take to keep yourself from suffering crippling embarrassment in speaking practice. Keep yourself reminded that this is not easy, and the fact that you are even trying is a testament to your bravery.
And I promise you: The rewards of speaking a foreign language are just as great as you've imagined.
Have You Dealt With Embarrassment and Anxiety About Speaking?
If you've got a story you would like to share, go ahead and share it in the comments section for this post. I'd love to hear your own tips and experiences.