5 Steps to Prepare for a Conversation Lesson with a New Foreign Language Tutor (when you don't know what you're doing)

I started learning how to speak Italian 5 months ago, and since then, I have had about three 30-minute lessons that were free-flowing language lessons. They were not based on a grammar lesson from a textbook, and we were not planning on meeting about some particular text or video that I could read/watch beforehand and prepare for. 

As an introvert, I tell you what: this type of lesson is super stressful for me, and yet I keep doing it...

But really, I take these lesson because I need them to improve my listening and comprehension skills and more effectively use the language with native speakers. And, in my experience, the preparation for the conversation can be almost as useful as the conversation itself.

So here's what I have been doing to prepare myself for when I have a conversation lesson with an iTalki tutor

1. Check that I have the tutor’s Skype handle! Luckily the tutor is more on the ball than I am and found me first. ✅

2. Listen to a video or podcast in Italian for at least ten minutes to get out of English mode. I usually listen to someone like Italian Teacher Stefano because he speaks at a pace that I can understand fairly easily, but I still have to stay on my toes.

3. I'll review the basics of introducing myself, and also try to come up with more complex or vocabulary-rich ways of explaining who I am, what I do for a living, etc. Like many Americans, I have a tendency to reply "I've been busy" or "I'm tired" so I try to find something else to say (that's true) so that I learn something new... and also don't dwell on my busyness.

4. Review what I know about the tutor so I can ask some questions. Just as when preparing to introduce myself, I try to add more complexity or  come up with another layer of questions to deepen my understanding of the vocabulary or the topic; e.g., don't just ask "So you live in Milan?" but "What's it like to live in Milan?" or"Have you ever gone to La Scala?" and so forth.

5. Review any areas of grammar I've been having difficulty with in the last few weeks and consider ways I could use it in the conversation so that I can make a bunch of mistakes in live-time and learn from them.

Of course, preparing can only take you so far when you're a beginner at a language, and perhaps I should add a bonus step:

6. Prepare to be a potato. 🥔 (Or is it a reflexive? "Prepare to Potato yourself.") Part of learning a new language is being a potato. You will reach the limits of your vocabulary and grammar at some point, so prepare yourself to say "How do you say X?" in your target language or apologize for not understanding. (You may be a potato, but you can be a sweet potato. 🍠)