When you learn a foreign language, sooner or later you’ll want to (or have to) speak it. We definitely recommend starting with speaking soon and regularly. Simply put, speaking requires practice. Don’t wait around for “later” and forget excuses such as “I still have a lot to learn before I start speaking”.
It’s much simpler than it may seem. The more you practice speaking a foreign language, the faster you’ll master it. Why? Simply because when you speak, you have to rely on your own head and on what you’ve passively learnt so far. For example, the best way to really pick up the phrases you’ve previously written down in a notebook is to use them in a completely different context, such as a conversation.
Speaking is also an important element of pronunciation practice. There’s no better way to master the sounds of your new language than saying them out loud and repeating them often. So what if pronouncing some words makes you feel silly? Try it. Make mistakes. Correct yourself. And again!
We can’t give you any shortcuts for learning a foreign language. What we can do is introduce you to several tools that can help you on your path. There’s a constant increase in the number of ways you can have conversation lessons without ever leaving your house. You don’t need to be a tech expert to get in touch with someone over the Internet from the comfort of your own sofa.
The tools we are going to talk about are not only for those learning a foreign language. They’re also useful in times when, for various reasons (such as social isolation due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak), you can’t visit your family and friends, who would otherwise be happy to see you. And the biggest advantage? You don’t need to go through any complicated installation processes or have advanced computer skills. Anyone can handle the simple navigation of these tools, even those who are not particularly good friends with technology.
Nowadays, our smartphones can do so many things that I’m sure the possibility of making a videocall will not surprise you. If both you and your conversation partner have a smartphone or a tablet, you can choose from several apps and chat away in a few minutes.
Some of the most widely used apps for this purpose are, for example, WhatsApp, Messenger, or Viber. It is usually enough to open the contact you wish to speak to, tap on the video camera icon on the top, next to the person’s profile picture, and hold your phone in front of you. You don’t need a special microphone, as the one built into your phone or tablet should do just fine.
If one (or both) of the participants doesn’t have a smartphone or a tablet, but has a computer with a camera, it is, of course, possible to use the computer instead. By the way, video calls are often more comfortable with a PC, especially if you’re planning to have an hour-long conversation lesson or so – your hand or arm might go numb after holding your phone in front of your face for a while.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with Skype. If you already have it installed and know how to use it, it is by all means a great choice. However, if you’re a newbie at Skype or you haven’t used it for a long time, it might surprise you with a required update or the newest changes to the user interface. Many people struggle with navigating Skype and when we combine this fact with the technical skills necessary to use this program, it’s probably not the best choice for everyone.
All thanks to Whereby. Known as appear.in in the past, Whereby provides an opportunity to video call people with just one click. It is very simple to navigate, can be used for writing as well, and you can even share your screen with the other party. Whereby’s functions resemble those of Skype, but in this case, you don’t need to install anything.
You can use it through your internet browser. To connect with your conversation partner, send them your unique hyperlink. All they need to do is open it and within a few seconds, you can see and hear each other on your screens!
In order to get your unique link, you first need to sign up. On the homepage, click on “Get started” in the top right part of the screen.
You can sign up using your Gmail account (click on “Sign up with Google”) or, if you don’t have one, you can use any other e-mail address by filling in your name (which will be displayed during your video call) and your e-mail address. Click on “Sign up”.
You’ll see three plans that differ only in the number of meeting rooms (i.e. the unique hyperlinks) you can use and the number of people that can share the account. For our needs, the “Free” plan on the right is completely sufficient and, as the name suggests, it is free of charge.
Once you’ve clicked on “Get started”, you’ll see a tab, in which you should type the name of your room. The name in this tab will be part of the link which you will later send to your conversation partner. That’s why you should choose something short and simple, so that you don’t have to keep changing the name of your room, e.g. your name (in our case hanka-j) or something like hanka-french. If, by any chance, a room with this name already exists, add a number or a special character to make your name different. Careful, you cannot use diacritical marks in the name of the room (such as é, ñ, à, etc.).
Click on “Create My Room” and you’re done! You’ve just created your virtual meeting room which can only be accessed by those who use your unique link.
If you want to change the name of your room later, hover your mouse over the blank white space next to the green “Go to room” button and click on the three dots which have appeared there. You’ll see a “Delete” option, which you can use to delete your room. Now, you can simply type in the name of your new room, and generate a link to it.
In order to start a video call, click on the green “Go to room” button. You’ll see a small screen with your camera preview. At this point, your partner cannot see or hear you. Before you “enter the room”, you can switch off your microphone or camera by using the icons at the bottom of the camera preview. Click on the blue “Join meeting” button to enter the room.
Once you’re in, you’ll see yourself on the left side, while on the right side, you’ll see a prompt telling you to share the link to the room. Click on “Copy link”– this will copy the link to the clipboard and all you need to do now is to send it to your conversation partner.
If, for some reason, this doesn’t work, don’t worry. The link to your room remains the same and you can simply type it directly into the address bar of your internet browser – the first part of the link is always “whereby.com/” while the second part is the same as the name of your room, in our case “hanka-j”.
The room you’ve just created will be available on your profile until you delete it. So, the next time you want to talk to someone online, you don’t have to create a new room. The link to your room also works when you’re not logged into your Whereby account. This means that you can save it somewhere else and then simply copy it into your browser and send it to your partner.
Inside your room, you can always switch the camera off/on (“Cam”) or switch the microphone off/on (“Mic”). When you switch either of them off, the camera or the microphone button will turn red. (In the picture above, the microphone is switched off and the camera is switched on.)
You can also share your screen (“Share”). This feature comes in handy when you want to show the other side something on your computer without having to send it to them.
You can also message each other (“Chat”) – the chat window will appear on the right side of the screen. This is useful for sending links or new words to the other person. But be careful! Once you leave the room, the conversation will be deleted. So, if you’re using the chat box for writing down new words or sending links you want to keep, copy them before you leave the room! If you’re afraid of accidentally losing your notes, send them to your e-mail or use Google Docs. This is an online word processor, which allows multiple people to work on the same document simultaneously and in real time. For example, you can share it with your conversation partner and you’ll have your notes at hand before and after every lesson.
The “People” icon will show you who’s currently in the room.
If you want to end the call and leave the room, press the rightmost “Leave” icon with a waving hand. You can also end the call by simply closing the Whereby tab in your browser.
Whereby works on a computer with a camera as well as on a smartphone. When using a smartphone, you can open the link to the room in your browser or you can download Whereby’s phone app.
For long conversations, you’ll want to use headphones with a microphone. They also help with conversations in a foreign language, because they make it easier to understand your partner clearly. However, you can also skip the headphones and just use the built-in microphone and speakers of your computer or phone.
If, during your conversation, the sound or the video freezes, simply reload the page. In most cases, this solves the problem. If you have problems with the video, your internet connection might be too weak. If this is the case, it helps if you switch off your camera and use only the sound.
Some problems might be caused by your internet browser as well. If reloading the page doesn’t help, try using a different browser. We recommend using Google Chrome for Whereby.
Once you’ve tried Whereby following our manual, I’m sure you’ll agree that using it is really easy. Now you can’t make excuses about being a “tech noob” anymore. Your room is ready and you’ve got the link to it saved and readily available, so that when you’re planning your conversation lesson, you just need to send your partner a short message, e.g. via e-mail, saying: „Hi Lydka, our French conversation today is on! We’ll see each other at 4 p.m. on Whereby – just click on this link: whereby.com/hanka-j. Looking forward to it!”
If you feel like speaking to someone else in your foreign language is too much for you right now, don’t worry, there’s a solution for you as well! Read our blogpost about self-talk. Yes, speaking to yourself is a great way to improve your language skills. Give it a go!
The author of this blog post is Hana Jokelová, member of the Language Mentoring team.
Language Mentoring provides a complete guide for learning any language using simple and often free resources on the internet and in bookshops. It was founded by polyglot, language mentor and author of this website, Lýdia Machová, PhD., in 2016. She's learned 7 languages by herself and she adds another one every other year. Her philosophy is that everybody can learn a language regardless talent, age or other qualities – if they know how to do it.