I was at a barbecue yesterday with a bunch of colleagues, half of them native Spanish or Colombian, and everyone with a pretty good level of Spanish. Now I normally speak English at work as that is the second language of the office and it helps me do my job better, but now we were socializing so I had no excuse but to talk with various people in Spanish whom I normally speak with in English. Very strange.
A few drinks helped the process along though. I know it’s not fashionable to recommend drinking, but if you are over the legal age for your country, and need to break down any social awkwardness barriers, alcohol has a distinguished history as an aid to talking freely. And freely speaking Spanish is the aim of all this effort.
I am lucky that I live in Spain, so I can practice every day, but when I first moved here I knew nobody and I had to make the effort to make contacts and have conversations. I said “Yes” to every half-hearted invitation and invited myself to a few things I am sure. You should do the same wherever you live. There will be someone, somewhere nearby who is a native speaker, and your job is to find them and make regular contact. Books and CDs are great but a bit of conversational back and forth, however halting, goes a long way to improving your confidence.
As I said, I had both the luck and the bad luck to be able to speak English at my job in Spain. Great for doing the job, but not so good for improving my Spanish level. If you find yourself in this situation, challenge yourself to at least start of speaking in Spanish whenever you meet new people. This will make it a whole lot easier to continue doing so in all your future communication with these people, both professionally and socially.