How do I meet native speakers?
To improve your spoken English and get used to a variety of accents, it can be really helpful to meet some native English speakers. In many big towns and most cities, groups already exist to facilitate the task.
The idea of conversing with native speakers may appear quite daunting to many language-learners. “What do I do if I don’t understand?” “What about if they don’t understand what I’m saying?” “I’m sure that my accent is awful”. My answer to all this is “Don’t worry!” It’s all part of the speaking process to explore ways to communicate effectively. If you’re having difficulty, it may be as simple as asking your conversation partner to speak more slowly or to repeat what they said. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, just move on to someone else!
In general, people attending such meetings are pretty open-minded, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. So what groups am I talking about?
Certainly in the area where I live and work, a multitude of language-based groups have sprung up in recent years. I myself organise “language cafés” in Strasbourg (France) and in Kehl and Baden-Baden (Germany). Search for local groups that may have names based around the terms English café, language exchange, language meeting, English speakers, English meetup, even those based on the speed-dating concept. For “meetups”, visit meetup.com and enter the name of your town or city to find all the groups organised there; there’s bound to be one for English speakers among them!
There are also the expat groups, but beginners beware, you’ll probably be expected to understand the jokes too! For some of the above you will be expected to speak your native language in return (“tandem”) during part of the meeting.
If you can’t find anything on the Internet and you have an Irish pub nearby, check that out too. Some of the local groups are also part of international initiatives, such as InterNations or the English Speaking Union and you may have to pay a membership or entrance fee.