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I know several languages on various levels:

  • Polish native
  • English C1-C2
  • German B2-C1
  • Russian B1
  • Spanish B1

I have tons of opportunities to speak to natives:

  • English - quite a few people at work (though very mixed origin: USA, Canada, UK)
  • German - I have been living in Germany for 8 years now
  • Russian - my wife speaks exclusively Russian at home (to me and our kids; I talk to all of them in Polish) and we spend ~1 month each year in her hometown
  • Spanish - every now and then I meet Spanish people where I live and there is a chance for a longer conversation

I can usually eventually communicate what I want in all of those languages. But I don't feel like I'm getting any better in neither language. I'm not taking a course or any other more structured approach as currently, I have other more pressing issues in my life. Still, I'd like to make the best use of the time I have with natives. Without turning the encounters into a lesson, that is.

If I had to narrow down the things I'd like to improve I'd go for:

  • grammar (e.g. prepositions and articles in German, declension in Russian)
  • vocabulary (nothing specialized, just every-day topics)
  • pronunciation (not perfect, just being consistent and sounding clear)

It's about improving confidence and fluency.

I don't have to work on everything at once. If there are any ideas to prioritize things, then I'm happy to hear them.

So, how to get most language learning benefits from frequent, casual conversations with natives?

Cheers!

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    Welcome to Language Learning Stack Exchange. Could you clarify what you mean by "best"? Without objective criteria, questions like this are opinion-based and inappropriate for this site. – Christophe Strobbe Jan 8 at 14:47
  • @ChristopheStrobbe how can I clarify "best"? Should I rephrase "what are the best ways for maximizing time spent with natives (for language learning benefits)" to "what are the ways for maximizing time spent with natives (for language learning benefits) the most?" It seems just like juggling words and the outcome is the same. I'd love some of your help on this one! PS. I'll swap "maximize" with "best use" to make it clear. – virtuallight Jan 8 at 17:57
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    Well, "language learning benefits" is very broad, since there are many types of benefits. Similarly, "best" will also depend on the learner. Examples of benefits: improve speaking skills, improve listening skills, learn more vocabulary, improve grammar, or even just having fun (since motivation is important when learning languages). However, a question covering all of these aspects would really be too broad. – Christophe Strobbe Jan 8 at 18:01
  • @ChristopheStrobbe Makes sense, thank you! I've extended the question with more specific benefits. – virtuallight Jan 8 at 18:17
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I live in Norway and I am actively learning the language, including by conversations. Here are some things I try to do:

  1. Use a target language, rather than your native language, whenever possible. Obviously.

  2. If I have to resort to English, I hesitate and pronounce the word in a questioning tone. Often, the native speaker will tell the word in the target language to me, and if not, I will explicitly ask.

  3. I sometimes do number three to, for example, the gender of words; I say both alternatives and ask, explicitly or not, which is the right one. The same method should work for prepositions and declensions. I would only do this a couple of times per conversation, so that it does not become too much of a drag on the conversation itself.

  4. If there is something that is particularly bothering me, I will try to check it outside the situation. I believe that deciding that you want to explicitly use a particular word or grammatical structure and then working that into the conversation might also be useful, but I can not back this up with experience. Maybe worth a try.

The key point is: Just try to express yourself as well as you can, and be explicit about uncertainty and that you are willing to learn. In my environment (at a university) people are more than willing to help; might be different in your social context.

There are also other ways of getting exposure to the languages. I would recommend putting the languages in an order of priority and then try to expose yourself to the highest priority language as much as possible. If you read or listen to news, try to do that in the highest priority language instead. Change your browser settings so that it shows websites in the order of priorities you have. If you need to search for a random fact online, try to do it in the target language first. Change your electronic devices to the target language (which is no miracle method, but it will teach you a couple of words).

That is: Whatever you would usually do in any other language, try to do it in your primary target language instead. If that is not possible, try the second-most preferred language, and so on.

You might want to customize this a bit; if both you and many German people like sports, maybe acquire your sports news in German in particular. It will be easier to follow conversation when you know what is talked about, and you will also know more of the relevant vocabulary.

Or maybe you would like to emphasize Russian a bit more before going there and while there, and German most of the time, as it is easier to get get exposed to a language of a place where you are.

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I explain you in the shortest way: There are a lot of websites where you can test, improve your grammar and vocabulary. *You can also do Readings in those websites, not only Readings but also listening audiobooks. So, I wish you the best my wishes to learn languages.

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    Welcome to Language Learning Stack Exchange and thank you for your contribution. Unfortunately, I don't see how your answer is relevant to a question about conversations with native speakers. (Please also take the tour; this site does not work like a discussion forum.) – Christophe Strobbe Jan 8 at 19:44
  • The question is more about how to best use the time, rather than how to get more practice. – Tommi Brander Jan 8 at 21:00

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