I used to talk to anyone when I was learning Spanish. Every Spanish speaker was potential practice. Although I never said anything like “I’m learning Spanish will you talk with me?” , I would either look for an excuse to approach a person or sometimes in social settings, I’d go up to people and ask “¿Tú hablas español?” just the way I had seen native speakers do amongst themselves when they wanted to connect with other Spanish speakers. I too wanted to engage in this kind of cultural and linguistic bonding. It usually worked; I made friends and got natural ‘practice’ out if it and consequently, more confidence in speaking.
These days, I’ve become more selective about whom I choose to address in Spanish. I don’t need ‘practice’ per se, and the type of motivation I had in the past has been fading. I came to realize this just a few weeks ago when I went to an auto parts store to pick up a part for my husband who was repairing his truck. When I got there, I saw that one of the employees was bilingual (next to his name tag, it said “También hablo español”). I thought for a minute about asking for the part in Spanish but I decided against it. It would be weird, that is, awkward, socially, and there was no reason for both of us to use Spanish. English would have been the assumed preferred language because we are in the U.S. and Spanish is a minority language here in my area. I also imagined that employee would assume I preferred English and was simply practicing the language and in reaction to that would more than likely just switch to English. I figured the inertia to overcome that situation wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Besides the issue of negotiating the most efficient language to use for the transaction, there was no possibility of cultural camaraderie so I just used English.
Under what circumstances would you speak to someone in a naturalistic setting (not a learning situation where both you and the other person are in the role of student and teacher, respectively)? I invite all my readers to share their stories!