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Making people help you learn their language

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LanguagesFX Micheloud's homepage


If you are lucky enough to meet people who  speak your target language regularly, be it on a trip or because you live in a multi-ethnic city, then you can probably have them help you to learn much more about your language. The basis is in the right attitude, and the exercise is very pleasurable. I've used it over and over in 4 languages and in many countries and it works really well, and is rewarding at the same time. Here's my best advice:


When you meet people who are native speakers of your target language, at home or abroad :

  1. Speak to people and smile and be open minded

  2. Master perfectly ( I mean nuances and prononunciation)  the few phrases that make most of small talk : greetings, presentation of self, how and why you learn their language, where you come from, etc....  Click here for a list of the minimum phrases you should master perfectly.

  3. Talk to people gently, looking them in the eyes and listening to what they say. If they are a bit rude or expeditive, you have maybe a chance to make them helpful for the rest of your days. Here's how : Once I was in a little bakery shop in Rome and I asked for the exact name of a pastry I didn't know to the waitress. She answered me very drily and looked after another customer. I kept smiling, and said gently to another waitress : "Oh, I see it's monday morning, it's a difficult hour for everybody, sorry if I was rude" (I wasn't). The next day when I came, the "rude" waitress talked half an hour with me and offered me a bagful of warm cookies for free...

  4. If someone answers you in english or in another language when you spoke in your target language in the first place, DON'T go on in the target language as if nothing happened. The other person is making efforts to be helpful by talking to you in english, or just want to show off its skills (very common in some countries like Germany). So if you want him to help you with your target language, you have to acknowledge the fact that he speaks english, congratulate him for his english  and then explain that you came here to practice this beautiful language that is your target language.

  5. When you hear a word you don't understand, wait for the speaker to finish his phrase and then raise your hand with a smile and say Excuse me Sir but I did not understand the word XXX ? What does it mean ? Would you write it down for me ? , preferably in your target language, and give hime a blank flash card. Of course a beginner  cannot do that  because people would not have enough time to teach him  everything. But still they will almost always be willing to help  for a few words.


LanguagesFX Micheloud's homepage