It’s all about good choices
This is a new season for Language Partners BC. We are running four language exchange programs in Vancouver, and now a new one in Victoria. Even though it is a small group meeting every week in Victoria, I am very happy to be there. In our first session last week, I was reminded of a really important skill for supporting language learners during conversations: making good choices.
What does that mean?
Making good choices means using your knowledge of a language and your conversation partner’s level to decide how you will speak. In other words, it’s taking responsibility. Instead of relying on the language learner, you change how you are speaking. This makes communication easier and better. Here are a couple of examples of this skill in action, both from last week’s session.
Example 1: Gender in Arabic
Malika was introducing some basic Arabic to me and Qihang. Note: Normally we work in pairs, but last week we decided to work in a group of three. We were working in immersion – not relying on any English. Malika introduced, through intonation, facial expression, and gesture, How are you? In Arabic. In the moment, I wondered if Malika was going to introduce both feminine and masculine versions, since I am female and Qihang is male. She didn’t! I was really impressed by this decision. Since Qihang was starting from zero in Arabic, this would have been confusing or overwhelming. Later, if he continues Arabic, he will definitely see and use the gendered versions. For the first session, one is enough! This is a great example of the person in the language “teaching” position making good choices on behalf of learner.
Example 2: What’s your name in Japanese
In this second example, Qihang also made a great choice, while teaching me and Malika basic Japanese. He had already showed us how to say My name is ___, and we had practiced this. Malika and I, in immersion, gestured for him to teach us the question What is your name? He looked reluctant. He introduced it anyway, but only to confirm that it was beyond our level. It was too long a sentence for us to remember. Again, if we continue on this language road, I’m sure we will learn it. For now, we could in practice elicit someone else’s name just by introducing ourselves. Great choices, team!
This skill applies to us all
I argue that this skill in making good choices for someone who is learning a language applies to us all. Even if we are not in language partnerships, learning and teaching reciprocally, we regularly interact with people who are not native speakers – in classes, at work, at the bus stop, etc. There are many ways to shift the responsibility to be shared, to reduce the pressure, and to take on the work of making meaning.
These ways include:
- Speaking more slowly (versus more loudly)
- Pausing between statements
- Saying it in a different way, with different words
- Choosing words or expressions that the person more likely knows
- Giving an example
- Acting it out
- Drawing it
- Writing it and translating on your phone (we avoid this in the immersion bubbles at Language Partners BC, but you are out in the world with technology!)
- Smiling, to make the person more relaxed, which makes it easier to work and learn