How do you get people to teach you this way?


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

People ask me this all the time! I’m going to answer about finding language parents for  the beginning phase here, because it’s the trickiest bit.

The most important thing is to find the right kind of person. And, that’s probably not someone who has the title “teacher,” or “tutor.” (I am writing this as a third grade teacher, who loves the profession, don’t get me wrong.)

Here’s the thing. Suppose you are a professional basket weaver. You’ve been doing it all your life, you learned it from master basket weavers, you are known for being an excellent basket weaver in your community. This is how you feed your family.

And then, in comes a foreigner who doesn’t speak your language, dresses funny, and doesn’t know how to behave politely in your country. They ask you to weave baskets for them…but not the way you’ve always done it. These strange people, who are NOT professional basket weavers like you, have the nerve to come in, be rude, and tell you how to do your job. How do you respond?

That’s why using this framework goes much better, in general, when we get the nice woman who sells me veggies on the corner, or the retired woman who has some free time, or the guy who sells salt at the market. There are certainly exceptions, but as a general rule, avoid finding someone with some kind of educator title.

Ok, now you have your flexible, patient person. How do you get the idea of the games across? There are a few tips:

  • You can teach your language parent a little English or some other language, using the same materials and same games that you’ll use for their language, modeling for them what you want them to do.
  • You can find someone who speaks their language and understands what you’re after to explain it to them. I had clients call a friend in the capital city and explain in English what they wanted to communicate. Then they passed the phone to their language parent and their city friend explained in a common language.
  • If they speak a language you speak, you can explain it to them.
  • Use language about games and rules, here is a link to the rules I use. Framing it as a game with rules gets more cooperation than having seemingly arbitrary dos and don’ts.
  • If there is more than one learner, one can stand behind the other learner, facing the language parent, and do the actions, cueing the language parent to give the instruction. Think of it as guided Simon Says!
  • Even if your language parent doesn’t speak English (which I actually prefer), they can watch the games on these demo videos and get an idea of how they should go.
  • Be patient and flexible. If a game doesn’t go the way you want it to, and you need to change it, after a little while say, “Ok, now we’re going to play a different game!”
  • Candy. Seriously. I give everyone, language parent included, five pieces of candy. Anyone who breaks a rule (learners talking during a listening game, language parent using a language other than their own) has a piece of candy stolen by someone else. It keeps it fun and light, much better than me constantly saying “No English!”

What have you tried? Please share what’s worked and what hasn’t worked!

Published by Nora McNamara

Lover of languages and linguistics. Besotted Auntie. Jesus follower. Sacred Harp singer.

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