If you’re going to learn a language within or outside the context it’s spoken you need to have a language partner who can guide you, offer constructive feedback, listen to your speaking progress, and challenge you to get past the small talk and have meaningful, fluid conversation. That’s not to say that you can’t have multiple language partners, but if you’re new to the game then finding one reliable and knowledgeable person is the first step. Drop any pre-conceived notions you may have that finding “the one” is going to be easy. You have to put yourself out there and commit as much to this endeavor as to your own independent language learning. This section will explain who a language mentor is, how to find one, and how you can utilize their expertise.
The Qualities of a Good Language Mentor
First, a language mentor is someone who is willing to commit to helping you learn [insert language(s)]. We all have responsibilities, and because learning a language requires frequent and consistent work, it’s important to find someone who’s willing and able to carve out time from their busy schedule. Having one productive language session isn’t going to carry you far in your linguistic journey. Secondly, understand that working with a mentor requires both parties to be actively engaged in the process and with steering the course of instruction. Ultimately, you’re the one who’s in control here and your partner should respect that by being patient with your language progress, offering guidance while also not being afraid to critique you and turn your mistakes into a productive lesson. You can take the lead when it comes to organizing language get-togethers, choosing the activities, and setting your goals. Your partner is also expected to engage with you in language activities, assess your skills, offer feedback and advice on what activities may add to your language learning. All of this is different from occasionally chatting with a friend who speaks the language. Not only is your language mentor a native speaker, but they are also committed to your learning, are knowledgeable of the nuanced mechanics of the language, and experienced with having successful relationships. But it’s okay if they’re not all that experienced, you can teach them some language learning tricks too. Most importantly, you have to like being together. Don’t get into a relationship with someone who is blah or repulsive. Ask yourself, do you trust this person? Do you respect them and value their feedback? Yes? Then go for it!
If you’ve been thinking of someone while reading this then you may have found the one. If not, I have some tips below. Read on.
How to Find Them?
Are you or have you been in the context where the language is spoken? It’s important to appreciate the people you’ve encountered, befriended, and collaborated with; recognize the importance of a social network. Maybe there’s someone you connected with, someone who you’re still in contact with. This could be a good person to consider as your partner. If you’re not in the language context, find a gatekeeper who knows or studies the language, or who works with people who do. They can expand your network and connect you to potential partners. Still struggling? Check out this site: italki.com
You’ve Found Them, Now What?
Set the ground rules for your partner. Remember, you’re in control here. Don’t expect them to do all the work. You should have a firm idea of your language goals and objectives and activities you want to incorporate. Don’t just rely on global goals, but set expectations for every meeting, weekly and/or monthly goals, and work hard to reach them. You both have to put effort into making the partnership stimulating and challenging, so mix things up, incorporate different activities and techniques. Also, if your partner has new ideas for activities, then trust their creativity and allow your goals and plans to adapt.
Also, you already know a lot about how to teach yourself this language, so it’s your job to take the role of teacher and convey important language-learning techniques that your partner may not be familiar with. Some of these language-learning techniques include: role-play, utilizing dialogue (oral and written), drills (repetition), and how to recognize and properly correct mistakes.
Whatever you do, respect your mentor. Remember that language and culture are inseparable, so you’re not just engaging on a linguistic level, but you’re also learning about your mentor’s culture and history. Respect and appreciate that.
Marshall, T. (1989). The Whole World Guide To Language Learning. Intercultural Press, inc.
U.S. Peace Corps. (2000). Volunteer Ongoing Language Learning Manual. Washington, DC.