So I was out with my friend, spending some time hiking in the French countryside with her and her family. We were exchanging expressions for crazy (in French) and I decided to teach her the American expression “batty”, or “bats in the belfry”.
Since I didn’t know the word for “bat” I reached for a possible cognate and declared, “C’est une mamelle qui vole.” Really, I thought I was saying, “It’s a mammal that flies.”
She gave me a weird look, and replied that such a thing was impossible. I was shocked. What did they teach in French biology classes these days?
We argued for a while, me repeating my premise at length, then tabled it until we got home, to a dictionary. She showed me the dictionary entry. Yes, “la mamelle” in French is a reference to lady parts.
I had been holding forth about flying lady parts.
In retrospect, I’m grateful that this conversation took place in a forest and not at the Louvre.
Hire someone to be your guide.
You don’t need a tutor, really, you just need a native speaker. Someone who will stick around for many hours talking slowly and carefully, and listening while you speak badly. By paying them, they will be more committed to showing up as agreed, and take more care in helping you. After all, it’s their reputation on the line too!
If you’re living in a community where your target language is spoken, find someone who can spend a few hours a week helping you with language. You’ll want someone who loves their language and culture and is excited about bringing you into the community. Ask around; maybe someone has a retired auntie, or a cousin on break from university.
If you’re not in country, you still have some options. Many cities are extremely multi-cultural. Immigrant and refugee communities have sprung up in the most unlikely places. Universities often have hundreds of international students from all over the world. In addition, there are internet companies like italki.com, that are set up to connect language students with native speakers.
Learn to be friendly and stretch your language with friendly people.
While you learn the language, learn how to be a friendly person in that culture. This goes beyond, “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” and “thank you.”
In some cultures, men greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. In other cultures, women are uncomfortable shaking hands with a man. In America, “how’s it going?” is sufficient, in China it’s abrupt to fail to ask about the extended family.
Seek out people who are empathetic; they will help you grow in ability and confidence.
In our daily lives we all know friendly people who we can chat with.
There’s that nice lady who works the checkout at the grocery store I go to. The butchers at the specialty shop I like to buy meat from. The other parents hanging around in the lobby during my son’s kempo lessons.
Sometimes testing the water can open up a who new friendship, sometimes this happens to me at the coffee shop, striking up a small exchange with another waiting customer, or at a book store, or hobby shop.
As you develop these relationships over time, you will develop a network of people who will help you with your language. The warmer your relationship with someone, the more language risks you can take with them.
Nurture your vision for why you are learning this new language.
The whole point of speaking a lot badly is so that someday you will speak well.
It’s easy to become demoralized when you feel unable to communicate. In addition to having friends who will help, you need to have confidence in your ability to progress.
In short, you need to have hope.
Make sure that you have a plan of attack, broken into measurable chunks. The “SMART” goal approach works well here.
Keep a journal recording your progress, questions, struggles, and victories.
Don’t just survive, thrive in your new language community!
At Mosaic, we have a method that will allow you to thrive in the midst of struggling through speaking badly a lot to speaking well. We call it the Growing Participant Approach.
Our PreFLITE is carefully designed to help you…
• Find native speakers to help you learn the language
• Confidently use a systematic approach to learn the culture, idioms, slang, and cultural references
• Use productivity tools and technology to track your progress
• Quickly and efficiently move from awkward outsider to confident participant
If you want to know more about the four-day PreFLITE workshops or online training and coaching, reply here with a comment. Be sure to put your email address.
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