Speaking: Don’t Be Clever, Cheat

Speaking a language is like an open-book test. In fact it’s better. Because not only do all the answers exist out there already, but you’re also allowed to see the test before you take it. And you can carry notes.

So don’t be clever. Cheat.

Boldly going somewhere you’ve never gone before — a new place or situation? The post office? The bank? A brothel 1? Take a cheat sheet! 2 Look up some domain specific terms or phrases (not too many — your cheat sheet needs to be big enough to be legible but small enough to be portable and therefore useful, like a 3″x5″ index card).

Have you ever watched an interview with an actor you otherwise respected and been struck by how dumb they sound? 3 How uneloquent? That’s because they’re not using a script. At all.

Stick to the script. Cheat if you can get away with it (which is almost all the time). And then, if the worst comes to the worst, just B.S. your way out of it.


  1. Don’t judge me. YOU try resisting jokes like this
  2. (Thanks to A. G. Hawke for this idea)
  3. I haven’t, but I guess my friends have high standards.

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  5 comments for “Speaking: Don’t Be Clever, Cheat

  1. 安藤
    December 21, 2012 at 01:23

    Mm, yeah, this is a good idea. I never thought about writing things down and carrying that with. Typically what I’ve done when I know I’ll need to go somewhere new is I’ll do some domain-specific reading (need to pull some money from your overseas bank account? read about banks and cards) and learn the new terminology, but NOT look up the actual information I need, that way I’ll be forced to ask questions and figure things out in person.

  2. December 21, 2012 at 15:42

    Oddly enough, index cards are one thing I couldn’t actually reliably find in Japan, haha. Just some crappy overpriced ones on amazon.co.jp. Had to get those babies shipped in from the states.

  3. December 22, 2012 at 03:41

    This is basically what I tell newbies who are scared of talking to a native speaker for the first time to do prior to their first language exchange (via skype): write down a bunch of questions and statements that you think you might want to use during the conversation and practice saying them before hand (use forvo for any words you’re not sure how to pronounce). This will make you MUCH less nervous and the call MUCH easier to conduct, primarily because now you’ve completely eliminated the possibility of the “oh god I can’t think of anything to say” nervous silence that everyone’s terrified of.


  4. Tyson
    January 3, 2013 at 22:28

    I do this for Chinese situations by finding a chinesepod lesson on the topic, grab the associated transcript and vocab list, then email myself the vocab list. During the conversation I’ll keep the email open on my smartphone just in case I need to look a few things up.

    Takes about 2 minutes and saves me at least 5 minutes of fumbling around in the conversation. Haircuts, pharmacies, buying a phone, getting the house painted – all can be easier if you have 4-5 key words fresh in your mind. And I find using these words in real life is worth 50 reps in terms of sticking in your mind.

  5. emad
    May 30, 2015 at 22:42

    I would like to take the chance to invite japanese tutors and students who are asking themselves how to learn japanese as a native speaker to have a free view on this excellent website that offers japanese conversation preply.com/en/japanese-by-skypeI am currently taking japanese conversation classes online over there with native speakers and the quality presented is professional and satisfying

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