One of my favorite pastimes during the Pandemic has been the weekly conversations with two new friends. Through Conversation Exchange (conversationexchange.com), I have been able to practice French with Michel and Spanish with Sebastian.
Michel is a French man living in the south of France. Before he retired recently, he was a flutist in the Regional Orchestra of Montpelier, a city about 60 miles away. He is also a flight instructor. He loves learning to speak English and he and I have a good time correcting each other’s mistakes.
Sebastian is a younger man who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He works in the financial division of a software security company. Sebastian has several other “language friends” in the U.S. because he is trying to learn to speak American-style English.
With my language partners, we are not afraid to point out the errors that each one of us makes. This often leads to some very funny discussions. With both Michel and Sebastian, the conversation is free flowing; there’s no script or pre-defined lesson.
Our three languages are full of expressions which often don’t translate well from one to another. We enjoy explaining the origins of these expressions and their correct usage. We also try to teach each other how to converse more like native speakers instead of sounding as if we are reciting vocabulary lists. For example, last week I was telling them how in normal conversation, we use words like “wanna,” “gonna” and “gotta.”
In addition to practicing a foreign language, it is interesting to notice how one’s mother tongue is so rich in vocabulary and idioms. Now when I talk in English, I am much more aware of the complexity of our language.
I have discussed with Sebastian that English must be a very difficult language to learn. Since Spanish is an almost completely phonetic language, I have often said that most English-speakers think Spanish would be an easy second language. He is quick to point out that Spanish grammar is full of complex rules with many different tenses and moods (such as the indicative and subjunctive). He complains that it takes a lot of memorization to remember how to pronounce similarly spelled words like “cough,” “rough,” “dough” and “bough.” I then remind him how hard it is to learn the genders of new words.
Last week, we had an interesting experience. The three of us arranged to have a Zoom call. We did it mostly in English, but since Michel understands Spanish, we conversed in Spanish for a few minutes too. It was a lot of fun connecting three continents while sharing our mutual passion for learning foreign languages.