So you want to find a language mentor?
A key component of a self-guided language curriculum is working with a language mentor, guide, or conversational partner. Here are a few key steps to finding a mentor as you start your language-learning journey.
1. Identify your goals for working with a mentor.
The objectives that you set for working with a language mentor will depend on your style of learning and your level of knowledge with the language. Before reaching out to language mentor, it will be helpful to identify what you want to ask of them. If you are a complete beginner to Chichewa, perhaps you would prefer to work with someone who can speak both Chichewa and English and who can help you understand technical details of the language. If you are a more advanced learner, perhaps you simply want someone to engage in less-structured conversation on a weekly basis. Assessing your mentorship goals will help communicate your needs and the committment you are asking of a potential mentor. Remember that a mentor doesn’t need to be a certified language teacher, but rather someone who can act as a support system on your individual learning process by clarifying pronunciation, vocabulary, and assisting you with language-learning activities.
2. Cast your net wide!
It can be difficult finding a native Chichewa speaker in the United States, let alone in your community. It will be very important to reach out to as many different people as you can – if they do not speak the language or do not have the time to mentor you, perhaps they can connect you with someone who does. African Studies Department at universities around the country are good places to start, as are Peace Corps offices in your state. An online search of “Chichewa Language Tutor” might turn up a few teaching professionals who would be willing to assist you. Others have found success in online communities through Facebook or other social media platforms. Engage with any or all of these resources, as you never know what might turn up!
When you reach out to various individuals, be sure to identify why you are studying Chichewa, what level you are at in your learning process, and what kind of committment you are looking for from a language mentor. Being up front with the amount of time & energy a mentor will need to put aside will help avoid any confusion or communication errors later on. It will also be crucial to be transparent about what, if any, compensation you can provide for the mentor’s time.
3. Set up a weekly plan.
Once you’ve found your mentor, set up a plan that you can both stick to regarding when, where, or how you will meet. Share with them your longterm goals for the semester and how you hope to break down weekly meetings. Give them a self-assessment, or have them assess you, to communicate where you are at with the language.
4. Develop your relationship.
Terry Marshall writes in “The Whole World Guide to Language Learning” that a good mentor is someone who can follow you on your own path to learning a language, but also forceful enough to push you to learn in new directions. A good mentor relationship will be one developed on mutual trust. Both of these attributes take time, especially with someone you’ve just met. Marshall points out that you may not find all of the attributes of a good mentor in just one person – and it;s great to pursue two or three mentorships.
Importantly, have fun with your mentor! Keep in mind that Malawi is the “Warm Heart of Africa” for a reason. Learning Chichewa should be challenging but joyful, and your mentorship should be a key component for both.