An Exercise for Fluency

If you’re planning to become fluent, one of the most important abilities to have is to be able to rephrase things. Your vocabulary in a target language will never be as complete as in your native language (there are still words I don’t know in English), so you have to assume that you will be missing words no matter how well you prepare, and you should develop strategies for dealing with that situation.

There is always a way to express yourself without using one particular word. For example, if you’re unable to remember how to say “visit” in your target language, you could say the equivalent of “go see”. Proficient language learners won’t visibly hesitate when making this substitution, and this can make it seem like they’re more fluent than they actually are. All this to say that you should practise this technique as soon as possible.

One way I like to practise is by playing “Taboo” or similar word games. In these games, you have to explain a word to your team mates, but you are not allowed to say the word and also other words have been forbidden in order to make it harder. You’re constantly scrambling to work around the forbidden words. It’s a great exercise and it’s fun.

For me, the perfect time to play this kind of game is when we’re sitting in a café or we’re traveling together. However, I don’t want to always carry cards around, not knowing if we might play or not. The solution is simple: use your iPhone or iPod Touch. You’re probably carrying that around anyway, and it’s a lot lighter than an equivalent stack of cards. Yesterday, Chuck Smith released “Word Race”, a free multilingual iPhone word game that’s perfect for this. In Word Race, you can compete against friends, practise explaining words and even do so in foreign languages (German, Esperanto and English right now; more coming soon).

Even playing in English will improve your brain’s flexibility, but foreign language support is great of course. If you’re going to play Word Race in a foreign language, I recommend setting the word pack difficulty to “easy”, so that you’re not confronted with words you don’t know. You could also reduce the number of forbidden words. With that setting, even beginners should be able to enjoy this game in their target language. Get the game here.