If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
Don’t stop speaking!
Let’s say you just began learning a language. You don’t live in a country that speaks it, but that doesn’t matter. You’re all excited to go out and practice the few phrases you know with some friends that do! These are the very friends that inspired you to learn the language in the first place. You can clearly remember the first time you heard it and how you paused giving it your ears. The sounds, the sharp vowels, the diphthongs, melted in your ears as you processed it all. Something about it was just so captivating!
This year my new language mission was Portuguese and now I’m at a conversational level (thanks to my Spanish.) A friend of mine told another that I sound quite funny and exaggerated when speaking. Now a lot of us might take that as something offensive and be tempted to shut down. But whatever you do, don’t. You’re losing out.
Sure, we’ve gotta admit you’ve got a few things working against you.
- The international lingua franca is English.
- People want a conversation to flow.
- People want to help you out and avoid misunderstandings.
- If you happen to be a native English speaker, let’s put two and two together. It’s your native language so who better for them to practice with than with you!
In preparing these observations, I consulted a dear friend who deals with the world of psychology. He had the following to say: “Truth is, an Asian speaking Spanish is just something you don’t even consider. In a way, it’s culture shock. It’s not what we’re used to and out of our comfort zone. We have to first get rid of predisposed ideas. Multilingual people are really different and can’t be put in a box. People don’t know what to expect.”
Mistakes are GOLD!
It’s time for a flashback. When you watched your little cousins grow up or the kids running around at church, don’t you remember how adorable it was to hear them when they were learning how to speak, and when they finally managed how they would make funny mistakes?
You’re starting off as a “newborn/toddler” in the language. You need to go through the same process as they and you once did!
Even after speaking Spanish for a year awhile back, I went to Taco Bell to order lunch and I said,
- “Me da el número nieve por favor!”
- “Lemme have number snow please!”
Of course I corrected myself, but the lady knew what I meant. It wasn’t the end. In fact, I learned something and I’ll never forget it!
Musicians know by law that we MUST make mistakes. No matter how well we prepare for our concert and how good we feel off stage, when in the moment you never know what can happen. You can, and will see the best of the best that have performed concerts in Carnegie and every other hall, go up on stage and flop! It happens! Why is that news? It’s literally a spanking from the musical gods to wipe the ego from our face and constantly make us strive for perfection.
Reset your friendship culture.
Make it CLEAR.
The Nelson Mandela quote rings especially true to me and I’ve noticed that people really love speaking their own language. Something to note is that if both you and a friend are living abroad; chances are you miss home, a lot. Every time people speak their native language they get excited and it’s a familiar sound to their ears. I’m not gonna lie, this is the very reason why I spoke 99% of the time in English at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin this year. I believe in speaking from day one; which is a great thing, but at the same time, you gotta have something to say. If you’ve been hanging out with someone from Paris for three years constantly, and one day you suddenly say “Bonjour” she’s not going to switch instantly! Your friendship has been established with English as the friendship language. You’ll have to go against your own friendship-culture habit and plant in her head that you want a change.
As close as you are, your friends won’t just naturally switch to your target language even though they support your endeavors. People that are monolingual or aren’t intentionally multilingual don’t really think much about having to choose which language to speak. It’s very cut and dry. American? English. Mexican? Spanish. It’s the natural order of things. Oddly enough, when I was learning Indonesian, my dad was so used to speaking English to kids born in the states that he spoke to me (and still often does) in English! But for someone that is a language enthusiast, it’s entirely different! We make conscious choices. We speak a certain language in different situations because we want to!
In a way you basically have to rebuild the relationship.
HOWEVER, if you do this with a completely new person, say the new Italian girl at school you’ve never spoken to, it’s all good! Why? Because you’re establishing a new friendship-culture. If you start the relationship with your shabby Italian, despite it not being refined, it’ll be the default language because that’s how the relationship was set! Another time this can work is when you meet a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, because you’re catching up and reviving a friendship. I’ve experienced both situations! But even still, you have to be intentional and make sure the person knows! If they are really your friends they’ll support you!
In the end, keep strong and things will happen! What are your experiences?
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