It is a scary thing, speaking a language that is not your own. You don't know what the right words are as your tongue stumbles over unfamiliar sounds and your synapses search frantically to relay information that they have acquired, somewhere, at some point in time, but that you cannot seem to remember.
You are afraid that the others will have learnt the mastery of the language, that they won't make mistakes as you, in turn, take an axe to a language that is supposed to flow beautifully.
Learning a languages means pronouncing words from your mother tongue with a different accent when you don't know the correct word. It means gesticulating a lot. It means nodding and smiling when someone else finally finds the word and you have an 'aha'-moment. It means opening your mouth and stumbling because yes, it does get better. It might even get so good that you won't have to search for the right words, that you won't fall over each grammatical exception and that you might even interject youthful slang like a local.
Speaking more than your mother tongue opens worlds and breaks down barriers because people appreciate others making an effort to learn their native language, even if you aren't extremely proficient yet.
It isn't easy because your brain cannot simply go into Google Translate mode, but all the strain and embarrassment is worth it when you don't have to think what you are saying anymore and the executioner has become eloquent.
Therefore a friend and I created Taaltandem, a page on FB that aims to unite people in Pretoria who have learnt a language or are in the process of acquiring a language and want to practice their oral skills without the confines of traditional classes. It is a free event, about twice a month, where a random group of people get together and chat about their lives. The only condition is that you try to speak whichever language you are learning.
Our second event took place yesterday, and although I was nervous it would be a big awkward flop, every one that came was charming and keen on interacting with so many new faces. Wonderful.
If you are interested, there is a 'like'-button on the right side of the blog or simply search for 'Taaltandem' on FB and join the page to see when the next meeting is.