Manding (Bambara, Dyula, & Malinké)

Speaking Practice Tips with a Language Mentor

So you’ve found someone to learn Jula, Bambara, or Maninka from. Now what? As a new self-directed learner, you might not have worked with a language mentor before. When learning any language in this way, it’s important to remember that you are the director of the lesson. Here are some tips to keep the conversation flowing.

  1. Be open about the mentor-mentee relationship from the start and throughout: The language mentor-mentee relationship is relatively uncommon in language learning. Your mentor may have different expectations about what your session/class/meeting might look like; for example, they might think that they are the ones responsible for planning lessons and teaching you what they know. While a mentor with a teaching background is always an advantage, it’s important to collaborate with your mentor at the beginning and periodically to see what is working, what can be improved, and how your goals and interests have progressed. NOTE: If neither one of you share a common language, it is even more important that you continue to evaluate and check in with how you are progressing. Continue to experiment with different formats in order to find out one (or several) that you both agree on.
  2. Come prepared: Make sure you have a goal coming in to every session. If you don’t, you either won’t feel like you’ve achieved anything tangible, and you may be putting your mentor in an awkward situation. Additionally, having a structure for your session will make your interactions more smooth. Even if the structure changes during the session, having a backup plan is always handy.
  3. Limit your input: It may be tempting to learn 100 words in one session to really take advantage of the mentor opportunity, but quality is better than quantity when it comes to internalizing language. It is better to focus on acquiring a few words that are used in daily speech than trying to acquire 50 specific words over the course of one session. One way to do this is to choose the specific type of structural input during the session, and then structure the lesson around certain tasks or situation that would elicit this input.
  4. Learn recyclable language: Language learning is a “spiral” process, in that you will always continue to use and review old concepts and building blocks no matter what level you achieve. Try to find ways to incorporate different thematic concepts into daily situations. One easy way to do this is set a routine at the beginning and end of the session. In Manding, you can use extended greetings and leave-takings in order to practice the many ways people say hello and goodbye. You can always add more variations as time goes on, and you can even add phrases like “What is today’s date?” Another example might involve you bringing in a set of everyday objects and asking “What is this?” in your target language. Not only will you gain new vocabulary, but you will practice the grammatical structure of learning new vocabulary, as well as learn the proper response to this question.
  5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! You have to do something poorly first in order to do it well. While you shouldn’t force yourself to speak all the time at the beginning stages of language learning, you should challenge yourself and give yourself opportunities to speak with your mentor. This can involve repeating what your mentor says, working on pronunciation, and engaging in free-flow conversation. In the same way, don’t be afraid to make mistakes with how you structure your session. If something isn’t working, you can always change next time. Learning a language and structuring a language session are both skills that are developed over time, so be patient with the process and take advantage of these unique opportunities!



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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.