Learning a foreign language is no longer a clandestine guilty pleasure behind closed doors. Your friends and parents do it, so does your neighbor and so does that guy from high school you thought would never as much as sneak a peek of a textbook or finger through a thesaurus.

You probably still remember your first awkward one-minute conversation in French or Spanish—or, as you told your friends later over a beer, a long and meaningful discussion which lasted hours.

In this day and age, people are as liberated linguistically as never before. Polls show that over 80% percent of people in their late teens have tried talking in a foreign language at least once. It has come to the point where practicing in broad daylight in parks and cafes is no longer an outrage (seriously though, get a class, people). Language learning is on TV, in cinema, and don’t even get me started on the Internet—the Web is crawling with social intercourse of all sorts and dialects.

Let’s face it, your college friends, who probably learn a new language every month or so, get way more practice than you—yet there’s still a moderate chance that you, the reader, too have something going language-wise.

However, don’t let your lust for learning cloud your judgement. Enjoyable as language practice may be, there are certain things to keep in mind to make it safe and spare you many a bitter regret later. The first—and the most obvious—tip:

Always Use a Dictionary

When you are caught up in the heat of the moment, using a reference tool is probably the last thing you would think about. However, be warned—ditching it altogether leaves your speech unprotected to all kinds of calamities. It may take ages for symptoms to show—but one day you might well find out that what you safely assumed to mean “chicken” was actually a rare Croatian name for asparagus.

Get Your Language Level Tested

Even if you prefer to stay on the side of caution whenever things get heated, it could never hurt to get your language level tested once in a while. Take an exam or a quiz online or see a teacher. This is especially recommended after those casual talks and one-night chats. He said it was perfectly grammatical – but it’s still good to make sure you haven’t picked up that split infinitive the guy in the bar was sporting the other night. That said, talking to just one person for the rest of your life is still your best bet, contrary to what media and pop culture would have you believe.

Talk to Your Exchange Partner

We all love practicing foreign languages, but talking about language problems might cause awkwardness even between long-term pen pals, text mates, and Skype buddies. However, if you noticed some strange conjugations, the idioms just don’t feel right anymore and the sentences are swollen out of all proportion, don’t hesitate to voice your concerns.

See a Trained Linguist

When it comes to tongues, don’t trust Internet wisdom and homespun remedies. If you’ve been noticing some weird articles in your texts or you simply can’t rise to the occasion whenever there’s a need to fulfill the duty of small talk, it’s time to have your language looked at.

The Ultimate Solution: Abstain From Talking

In your linguistic pursuit, you may start to frequent chatrooms and exchange meetings. Casual convos will make you crave more languages and more partners. Yet, glamorous as it may seem, lifestyle of a careless polyglot has its inevitable downside of mixed up tenses, shriveled syntax and flaccid verb endings. Therefore, until you have found the one, it might be wiser not to communicate altogether. After all, true speech waits—and if the urge to practice becomes too strong, just treat yourself to some Duolingo to let off steam.

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