This is one of the most common questions I get when I’m talking about people who want to learn a new language! Here’s what I tell them:
- Do not stop believing that there are people out there that want to help you like this! If you are a praying person, get a few friends praying every day for you to meet your language parent. Whether or not you’re a praying person, find some people that have successfully found language parents, and ask them to help you stay encouraged. Ask them how they did it.
- Be on the lookout. Who is friendly to you when you see them? Who is patient when you try to talk with them a little bit? These are really good candidates for being your language parent. Once for me it was the nice woman who sold veggies on the corner by my office!
- Know what kind of person you’re looking for. For this kind of non traditional approach, you’re probably not looking for someone with the formal title of tutor or teacher. You’re just looking for someone patient, kind, and encouraging. They don’t need to be educated, or even literate. My mentors Greg and Angela Thomson use the word “nurturer” to describe the kind of person you’re looking for. That’s a great image to keep in mind-someone nurturing, as a parent nurtures their children.
- Get the word out about the kind of person you’re looking for. I’ve recently used emailed flyers and gone online. One of my clients prayed, and sensed that she should go to the market and tell everyone she knew who spoke English that she was looking for a language parent. Another sensed that he should go to a certain restaurant and ask.
- Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to build a relationship with a person before you ask them. How can you do that if you don’t speak their language yet? And, a person I’m mentoring pointed out that that makes starting new friendships kind of weird. You start out just trying to be friends, but then you make this ask later, it feels fake. Be upfront about what you’re looking for!
- Probably pay them. I wrote about that here. You’re looking for a commitment of hours every week. It’s worth it to honor your language parent’s time by paying them.
- Try before you buy! Not everyone is cut out to be a great language parent. They may be fantastic later but not patient enough to play the listening games you need at the beginning. They might be firm believers in a traditional approach to learning a new language and not willing to play games with you. There are lots of reasons that someone might be a great friend but not a good language parent for you. So, try once. If it goes well, try again for a week or so.
Finding a language parent can take a little while, but it is worth it!