This page is designed to help new language learners understand what to look for in a mentor, tips they should consider, the importance of a mentor, and how to find a mentor.
Identify What You Need
First, it is important to identify what you want to get out of having a mentor, is it speaking skills, language advice, help on research, etc. Think of what needs you have for learning a language and find that specific mentor; for example, if you want to focus strictly on speaking find a native speaker, or if you want to focus on developing grammatical skills or something in that realm, look for a TA or teacher as a mentor. It is important to create a relationship with your mentor, so if you’re not fond of him/her, maybe it is time to find someone new. Also, make sure you communicate your goals to your mentor and confirm you both are in agreement on how to achieve those goals. Overall, the most important aspect when identifying who to choose as a mentor is making sure they have your goals in mind, developing a relationship prior, and ensuring your mentor will be able to further your progress in your language, in whatever way works best for you and your goals.
Developing a Focus
As mentioned above, it is important to be clear with your mentor about what exactly you want to get from working with them. Do you want to be able to improve your level of speaking? If so, by exactly how much? Do you want to be able to read more difficult texts? Do you want to improve your writing abilities? These are all questions that you should address before you meet with your mentor. By having these goals set in your mind before your first meeting, it will be easier for your mentor to help you achieve these goals.
What is nice about meeting with a mentor is that together, the two of you can come up with a plan that best addresses the goals you have set for yourself. You are not constricted to mundane exercises from a textbook if you do not want to be! Therefore, setting an appropriate plan that best enables you to achieve your process goals and end goals becomes even more important. As with any goal (reading, writing, speaking etc), there are many methods that will help you to be successful, however, it is up to you to determine which one works best for you! For example, if your goal is to speak at a conversational level with more confidence, then you and your mentor should focus on speaking. Perhaps that means the mentor speaks in the target language and you respond in English. Maybe it means you converse solely in the target language.
It is also important to take into account how you learn best. Do you want your mentor to interrupt you after every single time you make a mistake or use a word incorrectly? Would you rather the mentor lets you finish your thought completely before they correct your mistakes? Whatever you decide, it is important that you decide upon the method that helps you learn most effectively.
Additionally, it is crucial to highlight the fact that your language learning preferences may change over time — and that’s okay! If you and your mentor have developed a particular focus and have settled on one method of learning, this does not mean that you cannot change it. Remaining honest and addressing your new concerns with your mentor is the best way to continue moving forward and make progress in your target language!
Resources to find a mentor in Arabic if you are at UW-Madison
- Language Conversation Table: There are daily opportunities to practice speaking Arabic with fellow UW-Madison students and instructors. Check out the schedule for more information!
- Greater University Tutoring Services (GUTS): GUTS Foreign Language Learners matches UW volunteer tutors with foreign language students to converse for 1.5 hours/per week. They are located at the Student Activity Center.
- Department of African Cultural Studies: Ask faculty and TAs in the department whether they are available to meet with you during their office hours. They might be open to meeting with you more regularly and/or can recommend other people to work with you.
- Baytunaa: Baytunaa is the Arabic International Language Community student housing. They often have events that are open to other students and community members. Be in touch with the current coordinator for information about Baytunaa’s community events!
Other venues/resources to find a mentor:
- NaTakallam: If you are considering paying your mentor for their time, NaTakallam pairs Arabic learners with displaced Syrian refugees. Language partners can work with you on Modern Standard Arabic or dialect. It’s also possible to gift sessions to friends and family (or be gifted them, yourself!).
- italki: This is another resource that entails the exchange of money. However, there are many instructors on this site with extensive experience working with Arabic learners, charging relatively reasonable rates.
- WeSpeke: This resource describes itself as a social network site to learn and practice Arabic online for free. WeSpeke pairs you with practice partners for conversation practice.
- Conversation Exchange: This site, similar to WeSpeke, is oriented around language exchange rather than tutoring.
Establishing a Productive Routine with your Mentor
Once you have found a mentor, it is important to clearly communicate your current level and the goals you wish to accomplish with your mentor’s help. Take a look at the NCSSFL-ACTFL Global Can-Do Benchmarks and identify your placement in all five categories: interpersonal communication, presentational speaking, presentational writing, interpretive listening, and interpretive reading. You may not be at the same level for all five categories. After you explain your current level and the amount of progress you wish to make in a specific amount of time, inform your mentor of the situations in which you see yourself using the target language. Some Arabic language learners will use their communication skills in a predominantly academic setting, some will wish to express themselves in informal settings and focus on dialect rather than Modern Standard Arabic, and others may need specific vocational vocabularies in order to work in a professional capacity. Inform your mentor of both the proficiency level you wish to obtain and the context in which you plan to communicate in Arabic.
If possible, try to establish a regular routine with your mentor. Connecting electronically or in person at the same time(s) every week will help both of you establish accountability to each other, the time commitment, and the long-term goals you wish to achieve. While it is understood that this relationship is oriented around your goals, remember that you are also developing a friendship with this person even if only in a professional sense. Ask your mentor(s) about themselves, their day, the work they do, and the things they do for fun. Embedding your language practice in more organic conversation will more closely resemble the types of conversations you will have in your goal setting.