Learning a new language is as exciting as it is nerve-racking. You memorize vocabulary, try to understand the grammar (and all the exceptions from the rule), read your first texts, listen to the radio. But the true challenge with language learning are the social situations. Being surrounded by people that only speak the language you are about to learn. Starting your new job where you are the first non-native colleague to join the team. Joining your target-language-native partner for the first family visit far out of your comfort zone. Which ever situation it is for you, having a person at your side for support is a great way to engage in social stations more easily. But what is it exactly this person should support your with and how do you want to be supported in your social language learning process? Here are some guiding principles which have worked for me, as a learner and a supporter.
- Praise for the progress: “Wow, you speak English so well!” sounds familiar? It’s meant as a compliment but actually most of the people saying it can only judge your ability from a specific situation they have meto you in. I stopped saying this sentence. Especially in bigger gatherings. It brings language learners in this awkward situation where everybody joins in and even the last person becomes awarw of the fact that one is non-native. Especially in these rough moments when you are so close to giving up, praising progress is worth a lot. Hearing ‘But do you remember the time you could not even pronounce ‘squirrel’ at all is gold not only in times of despair. It’s a good way to keep track of your progress through the lense of somebody else. This requires the ability to spot systematic errors paired with the ability to share these observations in a motivational way.
- Understanding the root-cause for not understanding something: In numerous situations I heard the same sentence all over again even though I was only missing one of the words. Or people directly translated the entire sentence inot my narive languge. This is helpful in situations where information have to travel fast. As a language learning support you are able to spot the root-cause more concretly and take it from there. Which word could be difficult and new? Does the sentence contain a special name or saying? The more time language learner and supporter spend together, the easier it is to figure that out. If you both join the same gathering, a short eye-contact and a whispered word in exchange can ease up the situation and will not stop the ongoing discussion.
- If you have to correct, try to do it indirectly: Correcting someone can not only be impolite but destroy the flow of a conversation. There is an easy way out. Instead of correcting the language learner who says “I remember the last time when we meet.” say “Me too. Wasn’t that when we met at Joe’s?”. Correcting in this way has two benefits. First of all, other listerners are now able to follow and the learner hears the correct version as a direct feedback.
- Judge someone’s linguistic skills based on several different occasions: Speaking a language depends on your daily mood and energy level. Try not to judge somebody’s language capability from one occasion only.
- Decide on a translation target language in case paraphrasing does not work.
- Try not to adjust your speaking style of you don’t have to.
While spontaneous parties don’t prepare that much preparation, work scenarios might do. In either way, the language socialisation benefits both the learner and the supporter. It does not only teach language but communication skills.
At the workplace: For that both of the parties have to prepare (training necessary // In bigger teams, decide on distinctive roles “learner”, “socialsator”, “teacher” // Find out and Discuss how someone can support you in social situations // At times it simply will not work out.