Last year I wrote a blogpost on how to find a mentor. I provided places (institutions, NGOs, colleges) and spaces (social media) to find a virtual mentor. But now that you have found a mentor, what do you do now? Or in other words, how can you best utilize your mentor sessions and ensure that you are growing in your learning and knowledge of your language? This blogpost presents some next steps and activities to help you in your mentor-student learning process.
How to Utilize your Mentor? To Plan or Not to Plan…That is the Question.
In past I have utilized my mentor in a number of ways. I have been hands off and just went into the session without doing much planning myself and expecting my mentor to enlighten me. I have also planned entire sessions, noting what needs to be done for each and every minute of the 60+ minute session. Both of these experiences have problems and don’t lead to the most impactful and helpful session. In the first case, not planning, it often puts too much of a burden on the mentor and can lead to discussions that don’t really go anywhere. Remember for most mentors this is not something they are getting a salary for (fyi-I do think you should be reimbursing your mentor in some way), so don’t expect mentors to plan too much ahead of the meeting. In the second case (planning out the entire session), I think this also removes some of the chance to have the mentor bring forth their own knowledge and experience, while allowing you some space to go down rabbit or worm holes (whatever you want to call them) to get to places you never thought possible. These tangents are at times useful and essential to your learning, as they can show you areas that you may have been missing or not have clearly understood in the past.
Things to Keep in Mind
Before I provide my own suggestion, it should be mentioned that what exactly you should do is based on your language level-an elementary learner’s lesson and mentorship is going to look drastically different to that of an advanced learner. What you do is also based on your learning style and your learning objectives (so your ISP is essential). With that said, what has worked for me in past is-1) being consistent with time and length of your sessions, 2) creating learning objectives for each session, 3) recording elements of session, 4) allowing for both the asking of questions and for the practicing (both speaking and listening) of specific goals.
Be Consistent: Now all this is pretty common sense stuff, but it is surprising how difficult this can be. Being consistent is difficult. I know this is one of the things I struggle with the most. I have been prone to canceling sessions in the past. Don’t make this a habit. The mentor sessions should be the most important part of your language learning, as it provides an opportunity for actual conversation and dialogue in the language. If there is one thing to push back or miss, don’t let it be your time talking to someone or asking questions to someone who is knowledgable in your language. In my experience, just 30 minutes of time with my mentor is equivalent to 5 hours of learning the language on my own…especially when resources are limited.
Create learning objectives: While I don’t promote planning out entire sessions, it is important to come to these sessions with clear goals in mind. These can be something as simple as to how a simple word is used in a sentence, or more complex, such as applying certain grammar rules. These depend on where you are at as a learner and where you want to go, but always come up with a few learning objectives. These also help document what you have learned and not learned in the past.
Recording Sessions: I honestly hate to admit, but recording sessions helps. I hate hearing myself on recordings, but hearing yourself speak is important in growing in your language, especially if your language tonal. Recording your sessions also allows you an opportunity to practice your listening comprehension, while allowing you to go back and remember certain discussion and points. It can also be used as a passive activity, if you don’t feel like doing a more active activity.
Ask Questions and Practice: This is also obvious- make sure you give yourself time to ask questions and actually practice the material. You may go over some key concepts or ideas, but after talking or working through some stuff with your mentor, make sure you then actually practice that material on your own. You should do so during that session, but also remember to review in other sessions. I like assigning some homework for next sessions, which we then go over the next time we talk.
Activities-Role Playing: Now that I provided some basic guidelines, the question becomes what should you actually do? Or what activities should you do? Again, this depends on your level and objectives, but for me the thing I do most is role playing (especially for low level-like shopping at a market, getting a taxi, etc.). Each session I or my mentor essentially present an example of when we will use certain vocabulary, grammar, etc. and practice it through different roles. For me, it makes the dialogue a little more creative. I have also had my mentor create these scenarios and do them with his friends or family, which we then listen to or he sends to me prior to our session. This definitely helps with listening comprehension.
Conclusion: Anyways this post is just to provide a few suggestions on what to do when you actually find your mentor. I know for the last two years I have both struggled to find a mentor and struggled to know what to actually do to create a good language session that wasn’t wasting either the mentor’s or my time. I am still working on this and I still fail to do a lot of what I preach….especially consistently (and consistency), but hopefully I have been improving.