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Brave Language Learning Bonus: 3 researched ways to make anyone your teacher

This post is a free bonus chapter to go with my book “Brave Language Learning.” You can get the full book here.

Polyglot adventures often begin when you decide to leave your foreign language course, and look for exposure to languages on your own. It’s an ideal situation if you can make it happen: immersion in a language you’re learning, provided by somebody who speaks the language and is willing to teach you. But how to negotiate this? How can you persuade anybody to become your language teacher? As it turns out, researchers into psychology of negotiation have a lot of helpful tips for us.


Ask early, on a lovely day

This is important, and it surprised me as well! If you ask for a favour on a day with good weather, you are more likely to get a “yes” than on a bad day. Similarly, asking in the morning is more effective than asking late in the day.

It sounds like common sense: I am more likely to be well disposed to anyone when I’m still feeling (relatively) fresh, and when the weather is not bringing me down. But it’s more than that. Experiments and research seem to be confirming it.

So although it may be tempting to look for your next language teacher in the evening, in crowded places where you go to have fun, choose a fine morning instead. This is more likely to be a long-term success.


Give a good reason (and, really, any reason would do)

After asking your question, it makes sense to explain to your future foreign language tutor why you want them to help you learn a language. Here’s the funny part: in order for them to say yes, the reason doesn’t have to be completely, well…reasonable.

Again, researchers and experimenters showed that it doesn’t much matter how well thought-out the reason is. The linguistic construction is mostly responsible for the trick: asking for a favour, and following it with a phrase “because” + a reason, seems to be enough.

Obviously, though, you want this to be more than just a small favour. If you’re looking to learn a language from somebody, they’d better be well-disposed to you! So think it through, and give them a good reason. I can think of something along the lines of “…because I want to practice my German with someone and the way you speak is clear and understandable” – but yours will vary!


“I know it sounds weird, but…”

Negotiations are emotional exchanges. You know it’s true if you’ve ever had one. So why do so many negotiating experts pretend it’s all about reason, logic, powerful arguments?

You are about to ask somebody to spend some of their time with you, doing something they had no idea they could do: teaching a language. Imagine if somebody walked up to you today and asked that. Feels weird, doesn’t it?

Don’t make it weirder. A good piece of advice about this says: acknowledge the emotions behind this request. Early on, try to say “I know it’s going so sound strange, but…” – or, if your future language tutor isn’t convinced, just ask “is it weird?”

This will at least make the emotion part of the conversation. You can talk about why it’s weird to ask that. You can share the fact that you just asked for an awkward favour.

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