In many language learning experiences, the learner is taught in a classroom setting, with materials and content created and presented by a qualified language teacher. However, in the case of less commonly taught languages, like Liberian English, the learner is afforded no such luxury, so the learner must seek out guidance on their own. In some cases, if you are at a university or in the country where the language is commonly spoken, this can be a simple endeavor, as you can go to the language or regional studies department to ask about tutoring and other opportunities, or simply find people in the immediate community. However, there are circumstances where there may not be tutors or native speakers immediately available, which may appear to put you in a difficult position. Yet, rest assured you have options and there are opportunities to find a language mentor.
Why a language mentor for less commonly taught languages?
For less commonly taught languages it is essential you find a mentor to help with your language learning. This is especially the case if there are limited resources (textbooks, books/articles, music, etc.) of the language. Without the help of a native language speaker, it is nearly impossible to learn how to use the language. You may be able to learn a lot about the language (for example there are many resources discussing the history and development of Liberian English), but your ability to speak, comprehend, and ultimately use it will be severely limited.
What is a language mentor?
A language mentor is not an expert teacher, they need not be certified/qualified to teach the language, and they are not to act as a typical classroom teacher who provides you with lessons and materials to learn the language. Instead, a language mentor is a native speaker who assists the learner in organized and learner-directed language acquisition (Marshall, 1989, p.55). In a mentor-mentee relationship, it is the learner who sets the agenda, sets the goals, daily/weekly objectives, and determines content, while the mentor is to act as a language role model, who helps develop basic dialogues/passages, conducts basic drills, and helps identify errors and evaluate language performance in relation to the learner’s goals. Put simply, a mentor is a guide and partner in your learning. As noted by Marshall (1989) they should not only be fluent in the language, but be personally compatible, meaning that you have a good and trusting relationship, they should be willing to learn and grow in the language mentor role, and most importantly, they need to be available (p.58-59). If you know of a native language user who fits these descriptions, great, contact them and see if they are interested. Remember to be upfront about the time commitment, what their role will be, and compensation. If no one comes to mind, or if that individual is unable to act as a mentor don’t worry there are other options.
Finding a language mentor outside of your immediate network
So you understand the importance of a mentor, you understand the role a mentor should take in your learning experience, but for whatever reason, you simply can’t find that mentor, what can you do? The main goal is to broaden your network, this means asking native speaking friends if they know of anyone who might be willing or able to act as a mentor. If this doesn’t work, find authors/writers, professionals, professors, etc. who use or write about the language and see if they know of both any resources to help with your study and also individuals who may be willing to act in a mentor relationship. Other options include searching social media platforms (like Facebook) to find and engage with language learners and native speakers. The ultimate goal is simply to expand your base, your friend or your friend of a friend may not be able to act as a mentor, but they may eventually lead you to someone who is. This may seem like a long and time consuming and frustrating process, and honestly, it is, but if you are truly serious about learning the language it is essential that you put in the work and create such relationships.
Marshall, T. (1989). The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Intercultural Press, PO Box 768, Yarmouth, ME 04096.