Steve and I have just got back from our lovely holiday in Edinburgh. We chose to go there so that we could see the newly-acquired pandas, but didn't realise that we needed to book weeks in advance and couldn't get any tickets....oops. Luckily, there was a fantastic science festival on, so we went to four different events and had a great time.
However, the highlight of the holiday for me was our visit on Wednesday morning to the Yakety Yak Language Cafe - this is an organisation which arranges friendly and informal language speaking sessions, and Steve found out about the German in Edinburgh here. We had to get up terribly early and walk an awful long way to get there for 9am, but it was really, really worth it. It takes place in a German cake shop, and two groups of learners with different levels of German drink delicious coffee and chat in German with a native speaker. Steve and I were in separate groups and both had a great time - I was very happy indeed to meet a lovely German guy called Christian who has lived in Edinburgh for nine years and works as a nurse as well as being a great German teacher! I've been really enjoying my German reading and doing lots of it, but hadn't had the chance to talk to a real live German, so I was delighted to find that a lot of the fluency I had lost has come back to me. This proves that, for some types of learners at least, reading really is an easy and painless way to improve speaking, especially when you have forgotten a lot of what you had previously learned. Why? Because reading for pleasure in your second language really does remind you of a huge amount of vocabulary which you half know, or almost know, with very, very little effort on your part.
It takes time to find the right books, magazines or websites - for me it has to be novels - but it's worth taking that time, because it really will make a difference to your vocabulary. And, as those of us who work with IELTS know only too well, vocabulary, and lots of it, is the key to doing well in language exams - and all other situations when you need to use a foreign language under pressure.