A language mentor advises you and shares their expertise in a target language to help you as you learn the language or improve on skills already acquired. As Marshall (1989, p.55) notes, a language mentor is the ‘primary language role model’ to their mentee, especially at the beginners level where they will probably be the first people to introduce you to the language. Peace Corps (2000) uses the term ‘language helper’, someone to turn to for help when learning a language.
You will need a mentor whom you can relate well with. A mentor is like a friend who guides you as you learn the language. Language learning is an intensive activity. Similarly, language mentorship is a time-consuming undertaking. You need a mentor who is available; willing and able to set aside time to mentor you. It ought to be someone who is passionate about their language and culture and therefore more than enthusiastic about sharing their experience. If you can, look for a mentor who can introduce you to the greater language community. This will give you an opportunity for regular cultural immersion.
It is possible to get a language mentor who is a monolingual native speaker. However, a language mentor who has has also learnt a foreign language would be ideal because they understand the challenges of learning a foreign language. They have been language learners themselves and can relate with your experiences as they guide you to learn their language. Similarly, you could get a non-native language mentor who is fluent in the language and culture you want to study.
It is possible to find a mentor by fluke. You could be going about your business and by a stroke of luck, encounter someone who turns out to be someone who can mentor you. Or you could actively search for one.
- The African Studies Program in UW-Madison or any other university is a good place to start your search. The UW-Madison AFP has a database of faculty and students who might be potential mentors. Its outreach programs in the community may also be a way of connecting you with a language mentor. There is a small Zimbo community in Madison where you could find a language mentor.
- Associations that bring together Africans and people of African descent such as the African Association of Madison, a non-profit organisation. You can read more and contact them through www.africanassociationofmadison.org.
- A multilingual community such as Eagle Heights or other university housing where you find students and staff from diverse nationalities. There is a UW University Apartments Assembly that would be a great way to reach out to the large multilingual community resident in UW-Madison University housing.
- Social media such as Facebook. There are several Shona language groups on Facebook and Shona Language (www.facebook.com/groups/202908836558896) is one such group.
As stated before, a language mentor is like a friend and may actually end up being one. Grow the relationship as you begin your language study. Like with other relationships, sometimes your relationship might not work; you need to be aware of that from the beginning. Be cognizant of culture norms in terms of interaction and even compensation. All the best!
Marshall, Terry. The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Intercultural Press, Inc., 1989.
Peace Corps (U.S.). Volunteer on–Going Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello, Peace Corps,2000.