It was scary even signing up as I had never before spoken to anyone using Esperanto and the last time I tried to chat with someone via text was in 2007 when I started using Lernu (but got busy with other things and didn't get very far). Fast forward to Duolingo launching Esperanto in beta just over a month ago. Now, I had reached the third checkpoint in Duolingo in time for the meeting, but that's very different from conversing in the language.
Thoughts on my first meetingEveryone was extremely kind and welcoming. I felt more like I was meeting comfortable friends than strangers and that's saying a lot considering I normally prefer one-on-one interactions to group ones.
It was fun when one of the members, Lunjo, hurt my brain just by asking simple questions, e.g., is your green tea hot. It's the kind of thing I can normally say, but understanding others' speech is very difficult so far. (But even in English, I often find difficulty differentiating between similar letters like m/n, b/p/b, etc., having to use context to tell what people are saying, context I lack when listening to Esperanto. Also background noise makes that more challenging.)
I'm also going to see about talking via lernu chat as well. And maybe pick up a lernu penpal. If you'd like to practice Esperanto with me, feel free to add me via lernu (JenniferatLernu) and/or Twitter (@jenesperanto).
Even though I felt I couldn't speak or understand much Esperanto at my first meeting, there was still tremendous value in going and not just in the passive learning that took place. The suggestions on learning strategies and resources were phenomenal and the social aspect of having met new people is very motivating as well. I also learned that one member did his first meeting three weeks ago even though he hadn't studied Esperanto at all and he also felt he learned a lot -- so in short, meetings are useful for all skill levels.
In the future, perhaps I'll ask people to break up their sentences into like three word chunks so I can process a smaller part at a time, at least at first. Or I could just start writing down what they say as it was hard keeping even a simple sentence in my head. I think that's a me-thing though and also I wanted to try speaking naturally without a dictionary, etc. Maybe next time I'll bring some of the pdfs I've since received.
Since then, as per one member's (Ryan) advice, I downloaded the Telegram app and he added me to the torontanoj group. The group conversations move too fast for me to really take part and I've had more success just chatting with Ryan one-on-one, thanks to his patience while I looked up every third or so word. :) The group chat is still excellent for referring back to for reading comprehension though and of course I'll improve in time.