If you’re a new reader here then let me catch you up – I was born and raised in California but am currently living in Serbia and learning Serbian! With English being my native language and learning Spanish in 2016-17, it will be my third language… making me tri-lingual, AHHH. If someone would have told me when I was 10-years-old that by the age of 23 I’d be learning my third language and living in my third country I would have thought them to be insane! I was always such a homebody… I couldn’t even make it through the night at a sleepover. My parents would have to come pick me up around midnight, bawling my eyes out because I missed home LOL.
Anyways!! Learning a language is extremely difficult and a unique process for everyone! However, through talking to other multi-lingual friends, I’ve found a few common factors that we all agreed are extremely helpful to us as we’re growing our fluency level! The best way to grow your skill is to practice with native speakers!! However that’s not only intimidating, but sometimes they don’t know exactly how to best communicate in a way that is actually helpful for you, since they’re used to corresponding with others also fluent in their language.
I wanted to make a blog post to give a few tips to people who are helping a friend or family member develop their language skills, in the hopes that you read something here you’d never realized or thought of yourself!
1. Don’t speak louder, speak slower.
I cannot stress this enough… I can hear you, I cannot understand you – two totally different things. When I’m practicing my Serbian and I ask them to repeat what they said and they raise the volume I am not only a bit thrown off, but I’m a bit embarrassed! I cannot stand when people realize that I’m foreign in public. They all turn their heads simultaneously and just stare and it’s horribly uncomfortable 😬. I never get past a whisper if I have to speak English outside of the house… so when I don’t understand someone, I tell them, and then they say it in a louder way that draws attention, it’s awful in more ways then one.
Usually if someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying it’s not because they didn’t hear you. It’s that you spoke too fast, you didn’t enunciate properly, you maybe used a slang word or honestly, there’s a variety of other reasons! For me personally, it’s hardly that they didn’t say it loud enough. It’s just that I might have missed a crucial word to the sentence or that I got distracted for a quick second, broke my focus, and missed what you said! Whatever you do, don’t yell at me in a friendly manner… it’s not helping 🙈.
2. Use common words ONLY.
My partner always reminds his parents to use common words with me, something I’ve come to appreciate. Using slang or a specific dialect not known to the region is not beneficial to the person trying to learn. Of course down the line it will be, after they are fluent and looking to maybe speak more like a local… but for someone not in that advanced stage yet, it’s really confusing and ends up being quite discouraging!
I often feel disappointed in myself if there’s a conversation and I didn’t understand a lot of it. I’m at a point now where I pretty much understand everything being discussed around me, just because you only need a few context clues to paint the bigger picture. So when un-common words are being used in a conversation, I not only cannot participate in the discussion, but it makes me second guess myself and feel like I’m not progressing😳!
An example in English would be like using the phrase ‘sup’ instead of ‘what’s up’. No one learning English is going to be taught the word ‘sup’ by their instructor. That’s something you would use with friends and other native speakers but if someone was learning English, it’d be really important to speak to them properly and in a grammatically correct format! You have to remember that that IS the way they are being taught.
3. Stop and check at various points in the conversation if they’re following you.
It is extremely uncomfortable for anyone to cut another person off when they’re talking (for most of us anyways lol), especially when they’re in the middle of a rant or a story. It’s even worse when you have to ask them to repeat what they were saying… I can’t say enough how much I greatly appreciate when someone I’m speaking to takes the time to just stop the conversation and say something simple like ‘do you understand?😅’ before they continue. Most of the time I can nod my head and the conversation carries on smoothly, but sometimes I’m honest that I actually don’t know what we’re talking about anymore! Other times maybe I think I do and then by the end of the conversation or story I’m like ‘wait a minute, we took a hard left turn somewhere and I missed it!’
Either way you need to put yourself in the other’s shoes and think about how you would feel interrupting to say you don’t understand or just admitting you don’t understand in general! Confidence is so key with learning a language and if the person is feeling comfortable enough to publicly practice, just take a few seconds to go out of your way to check in on them – it makes a big difference.
4. Don’t force them if they don’t feel like it.
Sometimes it’s exhausting trying to speak Serbian all day😵. Sometimes my brain is just so scrambled that I just need to give myself a break and switch back to English, where I can communicate effortlessly.
That is okay. I can’t stand when I say I’ve had enough practice and the person continues to push me to keep going or they keep speaking with me in Serbian. Sometimes it’s good to be pushed, sometimes you need to know when to listen, take it seriously, and truly stop. There is always a point where enough is enough!
Learning and practicing a new language is mentally exhausting. At the end of the day it gives me the same kind of feeling as if I’d been crying all day. I just feel blank, like I’m ready to put on a movie and not even watch it – just have some sort of mindless distraction. It’s really important to be in tune with when your friend, partner, student or whoever so they you know when they have had enough for that period of time.
Like most of my blogs, I could probably go on forever – but for the sake of giving a concise and to-the-point blog I’m going to cut it off here! At the end of the day these are all things that you learn as you go, whether your’re the student or the instructor. The most important thing is to keep it light and fun! Laugh at mistakes, give yourself breaks, practice freely and give yourself the leniency to take the time that you need. Learning a language will never come in a day 🤷♀️.