The Phone Trick: how to practice a language using your phone (no apps needed!)

How to practice a language using your phone (without having to install any apps)

Talking to yourself in your target language can be beneficial to getting better at it.

Saying a couple of sentences out loud while you’re doing something else, (like, say, household chores or walking your dog) can boost your confidence, make you realize how much you already know, and let you have fun with the language.

But what about using the language in public? Do you really use the language with other people as effectively as you do when talking to yourself?

If you’re like me, you may find that the following situation resonates with you.

No matter how much you talk to yourself and how better and more fluent you think you become, whenever you find yourself in public situations, all that skill that gave you confidence is gone. Vanished into thin air. Just like that. Poof!

Maybe talking to yourself is not enough if your goal is to achieve fluency, after all. You’ve practiced and you feel very comfortable alone, so your language skills seem to be way better than they actually are.

Turns out that if you really want to get better at a language, you’ll have to practice with other people at some point.

If you’re like me, you dread that situation.

Every interaction with other people in your target language feels like an exam. You feel so uneasy that your language skills narrow down to “Ich heisse Kartoffel”(“My name is potato”). That is, if you can utter any words at all.

But why does this happen? Don’t you feel very comfortable and fluent whenever you speak to yourself in the target language? Why isn’t it the same in public?

Talking to yourself and talking in public are two very different situations. Because in the latter, other people come into play, so fear of judgment starts to creep in, effectively sabotaging your language skills.

So I thought maybe there was a way I could be as fluent in public as I was talking to myself.

But talking to other people always felt so uncomfortable!

So I started wondering, is there any acceptable way of… talking to myself in public?

Fortunately, yes, there is!

It’s what I call “The Phone Trick” for lack of a better name. And it will bring lasting benefits to your language skills.

How it works

– Simply start by going to a public place.
– After switching your phone to silent, pretend you’re calling somebody or somebody is calling you. That “somebody” is an imaginary friend who speaks your target language. So your “conversation” will be in the target language.
– You can either use whatever phrase you know in your target language, or prepare a script in advance, and create a dialogue with your imaginary friend. That way you can put all your newly acquired words and phrases into practice, in public.

Simple, isn’t it? Believe me, this can do wonders!

Let me give you an example.

Example of a Fake Phone Call

You: “Hey, how are you doing?”
Sacred Pause (you can have a moment of silence while your “friend” is talking to you, and in the meantime think about what you’re going to say next)
You: “Great, thanks, I’m on the train back home right now. Did you talk to her?”
Sacred Pause (you can have yet another moment of silence, thus, more time to create the next phrases in your head!)
You: “Oh, cool. I thought you never would. I’m so happy for you. Whereabouts are you right now?”
Sacred Pause (that awesome pause again, the one you wish you had every time you talked to native speakers of your target language)
You: “Oh I see, anyway, we’ll see each other on Saturday, so we’ll get to talk about it more in depth. Ok? See you on Saturday. Bye!”

This was a rather simple example. You can enhance it with words and phrases about anything you want. After all, no one can listen to what your imaginary friend is telling you on the phone, so your conversation might as well be about drawing unicorns, the last elections, assembling turbomachines, anything really. Provided it contains the words and phrases you want to master.

What’s the best thing about this method? If any native speaker is around, they might start a conversation with you, in your target language!

This has happened to me many times.

I was in Budapest airport, and found out my flight would be delayed. So I sat down and grabbed my book, patiently waiting for my flight. Turns out that the woman sitting right next to me was reading a newspaper in Spanish.

Such a perfect opportunity to fake a call with my imaginary Spanish friend, right?

That’s exactly what I did, and needless to say it worked perfectly. After I ‘hang up’, she immediately started talking to me in Spanish, telling me her flight was also late, so she had all the time in the world to have a nice conversation with me.

We chatted for half an hour in Spanish, only stopping because her flight arrived so she had to go. How’s that for a nice free 30-minute Spanish session? What’s more, it wasn’t me who took the first step, it was her! All I did was trick her into taking it!

This little trick is what helped me increase my speaking speed, sound more natural in public, memorize new words and phrases, start conversations with native speakers, find friends who speak the language, all in one.

As long as you have your phone switched to silent, you can do wonders with this!

Granted, the first few times will be awkward. But the good ole quote, “practice makes perfect”, holds true in this case, too.

If you try it, please let me know how it worked, and if it helped you meet new people and start conversations in your target language!

Maria Spantidi

Maria loves learning how the world works. She speaks several languages, composes music, plays 9 musical instruments, is a mechanical engineer, loves math, history and animals, is ambidextrous, and enjoys long-distance running.

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