“You talkin’ to me?… Well I’m the only one here!”

Most people will probably recognise this quote from Taxi Driver even if it’s from before their time. But did you know that Robert De Niro is speaking to himself in the mirror?

Today I was looking at Hangukdrama, and the comments for the post reminder to self made me think of how we practice speaking another language.

Usually when you see sections called “speaking” in books and you don’t have a partner that you study with, I suspect many will just go through the provided dialogues and leave it at that. That means that if you don’t have a fellow learner or a native friend to “subject to” your pronunciation challenges, the opportunities for speaking decrease drastically.

But why do we need to practice speaking with someone else? If you have ever been to a presentation technique class there are no such restrictions concerning who should be present or not for your presentation (or your practice) to be valid. You’re expected to be able to hold your own in front of an audience and if they don’t interrupt you with questions, you never enter the conversation-zone, but you nevertheless speak!

When I started my BSc I was terrified of speaking in public, as in tunnel vision and sweaty palms, and our programme director knew that a lot of people feel that way so the university offered a seminar in public speaking and encouraged everyone from the programme to attend. I have overcome my presentation fear and now I actually enjoy presenting my work, knowing that I know my stuff and very few questions can throw me off – and if you do come across the odd question you will find a way to handle that too.

In the presentation class we were encouraged to practice our presentations at home so we know that we know our material and can shake the fear of the “uhm”s in safe surroundings. I even used this technique when studying for exams by talking myself through the syllabus of a course as preparation for oral exams as well as exams with a lot of material to learn by heart. I warned the family that I hadn’t gone completely crazy and then I closed my door and spoke at normal pitch when going through the material.
As I worked my way through some business case, explaining it with the theory I would realise where the gaps in my theoretical knowledge were, and I could look up what was missing before meeting the censor – and I would have an idea of how I concretely wanted to phrase my answers.

Honestly, how many of you out there occasionally speak to yourself or at least have a conversation inside your head in a foreign language?
I do. Not in a very loud, public, lunatic-way. Sometimes I just find myself going through different situations thinking “what would I reply if someone said XYZ to me in that language”. The situations can range from excusing being late for a meeting with someone to what to say in an argument – a fictive one or one where I have previously found myself tongue-tied.

From the comments on Hangukdrama it appears that a few of us do. We just don’t advertise it. But isn’t it valid practice? Why wouldn’t it be for language practice when it’s encouraged for presentations and speeches in other contexts? Does it makes you more ‘pro’ if your topic is business oriented whereas it’s the sure path to a reputation as the village fool if you practice a language? That is probably not the reason, but I have never heard anyone recommend speaking with yourself just to get a better hang of what you just learned in a study session. But one thing is to think about some sentences, another thing is to say them out loud.

When we speak, it becomes a lot more concrete that we have to think of the formality level, not “run out of words”, get the particles right, and pace the sentence correctly. And all the while you don’t want to sound like an old tape recorder set on half speed because you spend to much time thinking and your tongue does not produce the sounds you imagined it would for that particular word.

So speak everyone! With yourselves or others, as long as you practice. Though, if you insist on speaking with yourselves in public you might want to wear a headset and put your phones on mute so they don’t ring in the middle of your monologue…

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