TalkAbroad Resources home

McKenzie Romero, University of Wyoming

08 April 2020

One of my final assignments for my Spanish 2040 class was to complete a thirty-minute conversation with a real, native speaker on a website I had never heard of before. That site, of course, was TalkAbroad. From the moment I first heard that I was required to complete this assignment, my heart sank. “I can’t speak Spanish for a full thirty minutes! My accent is horrible!” This was—at least in my mind—true. My vocabulary was (and is, if I’m being honest) about as extensive as a three-year-old’s, and when I get nervous, as I do when talking with a native speaker, I tend to stutter a lot.

Still, there was no avoiding it: I had to complete the assignment, or else lose a grade-changing one hundred points. And so it was that, resigned to my fate, I logged on to TalkAbroad for the first time. Using the code my professor had given me, I took a deep breath and, with a final click, pressed the enter button. I wasn’t even having the conversation yet, and I was already nervous! How would I perform when the time actually came to speak with my partner? And who was my partner going to be, anyway?

It took a moment, but soon the screen buffered and began to load up a list of names and profile pictures. Each photo was of a different person, each with their own unique background and story. The options of potential partners were as diverse as an array of sea shells gathered on a bright summer day at the beach. There were men and women; young teens and middle-aged housewives; adventurous outdoorsy types and those of the more subdued, bookish nature. I felt like I had stepped into an ice cream shop where there were a million different flavors being offered. How to decide? Which one would be best for me?

I scrolled for about five minutes, skimming through profile summaries and glancing over the seemingly endless stream of pictures. Eventually, my eye crossed over the name Bertha Vega. Huh, I thought. Dad had an aunt in the family named Bertha. Intrigued, I clicked on her profile and began to read her personal summary. She lived in Mexico, just like my great-great grandparents had, and had two children, a son and a daughter. She was about fifty and loved cooking traditional Mexican meals. All of this was more or less what I expected of a native Mexican speaker, but I was surprised and delighted to discover that Bertha also loved to read Stephen King books. Wow! I love his stuff, too! Maybe we really do have something we can talk about.

I searched around a bit more, but my mind had already been made. Bertha had won my vote, so to speak. I scheduled our appointment for Wednesday afternoon and prayed it would go well. In order to prepare, I brushed up on both my Spanish vocabulary and my favorite Stephen King reads. I didn’t want to log onto the conversation and find I had nothing to say, so I made sure that I was ready to answer any questions she might have as well. Even in the midst of all my preparation, however, my nervousness remained. What if I somehow forgot everything I wanted to say? What if I tried to ask a question and I messed it up?

A few days passed and, before I knew it, the time to log back on to TalkAbroad had arrived. With sweaty palms and a quickly beating heart, I slipped on my headphones, entered my username and password, and arrived at the site’s main dashboard. Immediately, a tab popped up, and an innocent-looking, yet at the same time totally intimidating blue button read, “Join the Conversation!” I closed my eyes, took another deep breath (I had been holding it) and took the plunge. Almost before I could think, Bertha appeared on the screen, and out of sheer fright I squeaked, “Oh! Uh—uh ¡Hola!” And thus, the conversation began.

Bertha, instantly aware of my nervousness, wasted no time in putting me at ease. “Tranquila,” she said, in that warm, Mexican accent that brought me back to the earliest days of my childhood. Be at peace. I listened and took another breath (I was still holding it), and when I opened I mouth, I found it was a little easier to speak. We actually ended up talking for a little longer than we had to, exchanging thoughts on books, the weather, regions of our two countries, and even allergies! I shared with her stories of how my family came to America, as well as my hopes of someday returning to Mexico to find the rest of my family who stayed behind.

Through it all, Bertha remained patient, kind, and willing to endure my terrible jokes. She was actually feeling a little sick, having fell ill before I had even scheduled our appointment. I wished her a swift recovery and she smiled, thanking me with a laugh and a warm, “Gracias.” We talked for a few minutes more, and just as I was preparing to ask yet another question, Bertha told me that, yes, it was time to end the conversation. What? I thought. But I—I looked up to the clock at the right-hand corner of my screen and saw it was true. We were, in fact, five minutes over our allotted time. Wow…

Looking back to Bertha, I couldn’t help but smile. I wished her all the best, my stutter (almost) gone, and she told me I had done well, and was a delightful conversation partner. I felt good, and as the screen went dark, I slipped off my headphones, breathed a sigh of relief, and whispered a soft, “Yes!”

Not a day later, I received an e-mail from TalkAbroad, and was delighted to discover I had received an audio file of the whole conversation! I clicked on it immediately and smiled as I relived the memory, once again cringing at my clumsy accent and laughing at Bertha’s jokes. It really hadn’t been so bad, actually, I thought. In reality, the whole thing—even the times when I was nervous—had really been quite lovely.