Foreign language study is more people-oriented than other disciplines I know of. So it makes sense that students of one language spend time learning – and teaching – together. How do such language learning communities grow – especially when time, money and resources are crucial? Let’s try to find out.
1. So this happened: teaching somebody a language I don’t know
(Click the image to embiggen)
This was a nice enough exchange – but what made it even nicer is this: I don’t know Spanish well enough to understand, much less use, that kind of expression off the cuff. And yet I helped somebody out – a person who has lived in Spain for a while and is surrounded by the language. So what happened here?
We could focus on the technicalities: a Spanish-related Facebook status, a quick Google search, a Wiktionary research, finally – a reply to the original status. That is amazing enough (think about doing this twenty years ago – good luck!).
But I want to see a bit more of this.
2. The buddy effect: a little bit of feel good
Here’s what else happened during this brief exchange:
- – I got interested.
- – I challenged myself (“see if I can crack this one”).
- – There was a bit of planning (“I could ask a friend, go through Google…”).
- – The ineffective techniques were discarded (“too many results to be sure”).
- – Sources had to be critically assessed (“this website is complete pants!”).
- – I felt that I’m out of my comfort zone, but determined to move on.
- – New plan! (“okay, Google Translate and then google the Spanish result.”)
- – Comparing result with context (“Real won 3:0 – piece of cake sounds about right”).
- – Shared result.
- – I felt super-proud (“pan comido, indeed.”)
- – My friend felt like they learned something new. Which they did.
- – Facebook like!
- – More cool bread-related Spanish idioms!!
Best part? This took 2 minutes and I will probably remember this phrase forever.
There’s clearly a lot to be said for teaching others – and for these kinds of moments to become systematic, frequent and encouraged. But the first question to deal with here must be: how does one go about being a teacher?
3. What teaching others really means
Ask Taylor Mali: teachers are quite awesome creatures. They are worth every minute spent on their training, every penny invested in their development, and every praise you can think of. But if this is the case – why do so few language learners try to be more like them?
We do the obvious: pick up the word order, the pronunciation, the idioms and fillers / idiosyncrasies. But there’s a lot that we’re avoiding. Teachers know this, and they have often commented on how varied and flexible their job is (see some comments on their changing roles and the many hats they must wear).
For a language learner – or for a group of enterprising learning buddies – the roles and functions above may look daunting. There’s good news, though: nobody has to do this all at once!
4. What Guerrilla Language Learners should learn from “Captain Planet”
Look, let’s just agree that 1990s had some cool cartoons. This intro is useful for my argument here, but any excuse to bring this up is good 🙂
The reason the above exchange worked is because my friend was good at noticing this stuff and had access to “La Marca,” I was nerdy enough to do a quick web research, and my friend’s friend knew enough Spanish to follow up with another idiom. Each of us was good at something else – none of us is probably an all-round awesome Spanish speaker / teacher.
That’s OK. That’s enough. For a group of language learning buddies, it’s enough to play by a few rules to make things more enjoyable:
- – Try to agree the key roles early (note-taker, fact-checker, content provider etc.) – based on the skills and resources available to the group.
- – Don’t feel bad about changing those, or about friends doing something that’s “your job” when a good opportunity arises.
- – Don’t hold back criticism. Don’t hold back praise. Make this super clear the moment you start.
- – Take it all really, really easy. Unless you’re a group of super-stressed college students cramming for the most important language exam of your life – there’s no reason to avoid fun just because “it’s not what we agreed.”
- – Look for your strengths and show them off. Turns out you’re good at sounds and pronouncing words? Your group has just got a pronunciation expert. Did you like your buddy’s writing style? Share this and see whether it can be used.
- – Share everything, always, with everyone. My friend helped me learn two Spanish phrases with one Facebook update. There’s probably a few dozen more in the “Marca” he’d been reading. Make is easy, necessary and intuitive for all folks you learn a language with to share anything they’ve got (Google Drive could work, Evernote would do nicely)
How would you go about setting up a buddy-learning language course?
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