How do I find a language parent?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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!

And remember:


My 2019 Goals

Happy New Year! (I thought I posted this blog last month. Guess I didn’t! Better late than never?)

If you’re anything like me, goal-setting is a mixed bag. There are a lot of good goal-setting frameworks out there, but I risk failing to achieve what I set out to do.

This year I did a new thing for goal-setting. I wrote down my top 25 goals and circled my top 5, and decided to focus 100% of my attention on the top 5 goals and ignore the rest until I’ve successfully completed one off the list. For me, it’s more about habits to establish than goals to meet, for the most part, but doing it this way really worked! It was hard for me at first to come up with 25 goals, but once I got going, the ideas just flowed. This is Warren Buffet’s 5/25 Rule, according to a great podcast by Mary Valloni, which you can find here.

I’m pretty excited about these New Year’s resolutions, because I’ve actually been keeping them since November!

Now, without any further ado, here are some of my goals for the coming year:

#1. Be spiritually fit.

Over the past years, I said ‘yes’ to more travel and teaching. Some of these events changed my life, and I’m glad I did it. But there was a cost: I read fewer books, journalled less, and had less time for prayer, meditation, and reflection.

That’s going to change in 2019. It’s actually already started to change! During Advent, I focused on spending time daily really meditating on Scripture and having heart to heart conversations with Jesus. By doing this, my eyes will be focused on God and his solutions, not the obstacles I see around me. That will give me the courage to follow as He keeps leading me out of my comfort zone into things that scare me a little!

I have a new journal that makes it easier for me to reflect on my day and how God was present, and an accountability partner to check in with about this daily review. This will help me notice more and more how God is working in my life every day. That will lead to more gratitude, and less worry.

On January 6th I’m starting an intense small group with a group of women who are quickly becoming close friends and encouragers. When I travel, I’ll Skype in to the small group, and share my answers to our homework. This small group will be digging into really giving God control over my life, things I need to forgive and ask forgiveness for, and asking God to take away my character defects. I’ll be developing habits that will help me be even more resilient when things get tough.

Bottom line, spiritually fit for me means consistently spending time being honest with God, noticing Him constantly during the day, having His word soaking into my heart, being quick to forgive and ask forgiveness, and trusting Him in new areas of my life.

#2. Be physically fit.

Why? Ministry is very demanding on every front: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. But there is more to my life than ministry, just like there is more to your life than your job.

As a result, I just don’t have a lot left in the tank at the end of the day. Frankly, I need to be better at managing my energy. So in 2019, I am giving a high priority to exercise and healthy eating.

That means I wear my Fitbit every day and get at least 250 steps every hour. Since a lot of my work is in front of my computer, this gets me moving throughout the day. I’m also dancing every day, with free videos on YouTube that I really enjoy. They boost my mood as well as get my blood pumping. These workouts don’t require a gym membership or expensive equipment. And I can do them almost anywhere — which is especially great because of the heavy travel I’m sometimes asked to do.

When it comes to healthy eating, I’m drinking 128 oz of water every day, eating a meal or a snack every 2 ½ hours (I set the timer on my phone), tracking my food in the Fitbit app, and, drum roll please, I am only drinking Dr Pepper on Sundays! I gave up Dr Pepper for Advent as a spiritual exercise, and I am keeping it up. I feel a lot better, having less energy highs and lows. This is a real shocker for me!

#3. Be fully funded.

2018 was a wonderful year where God really moved, and I got a lot closer to being fully funded! Then, at the end of the year, my heart broke. A training school wanted me to come and teach, but their enrollment dropped, and they couldn’t afford to cover my expenses. I never want that to happen again-to have to say no to training wonderful new missionaries because of a lack of funds.

When I’m fully funded, I’ll have money set aside so that I can say yes to every teaching opportunity that God leads me to. I’ll be able to buy all of the materials and equipment that I need to reach more people and train more trainers. All of my energy will be focused on ministry, without worrying about funding.

So, those are some of my goals for the upcoming year. I hope the technique I shared earlier will help you to have a great 2019!

What are your goals for 2019?

How to take conversation practice to the next level

Last week at lunch my Mom’s best friend said to me, “You can help me very much!” I figured she was going to ask me to fix something on her computer. Not my strong suit, but I can do all things with Google and YouTube. Turns out, she wanted help with something that I actually know something about.

A new American from Turkey has been meeting with her once a week for conversational English practice. She’s bright, has a degree in physics, and is not a beginner in English by any means. She can read and write well, but wanted help understanding and speaking. Mom’s friend needed advice on how to help her beyond just chatting, which only gets you so far when you’re growing into a new language and culture.

I was going to write her an email summarizing my suggestions, but then I realized this might be helpful for other people too, so here you go!

I call this technique unpacking a text. I did things like this when I lived in France, but the nice step by step procedure comes from my mentors and heroes, Greg and Angela Thomson. You can check out their blog here, brand new website here, training videos here, and their Facebook page here.

It all comes down to playing a game like Taboo, with a few variations.

The first variation uses a short story, Mom’s friend R suggested Sherlock Holmes.

Here’s how the game goes:

  1. R has a copy of the story, her new American friend (A) does not. This keeps the game focused on listening instead of reading, as A requested.
  2. R reads part of the story aloud to A, about 5 minutes’ worth.
  3. A can record this on her smartphone to listen to later if she wants to.
  4. Then R reads the same part again.
  5. A stops her whenever she doesn’t understand or something sounds funny to her.
  6. R gives examples of other places this word or whatever is used.
  7. If it’s a new word, R makes a note of the new word for herself.
  8. A tries it out herself- trying it in new sentences. She asks, “Can I use it here? How about here?”
  9. If A doesn’t ever stop R and say she doesn’t understand, which happens with some people, R will stop every sentence or so and ask A to tell her what it said in her own words. If that retelling shows a misunderstanding, R will explain as above.
  10. If there’s a cultural thing that R thinks A might be missing, she stops and explains it.
  11. This continues until they get to the end of the section of the story.
  12. R reviews all the new words, referring back to her list, explaining them and using them in sentences.
  13. A can record this explanation to listen to at home.
  14. The next time they meet, A will tell back the part of the story to R, in her own words, not memorized. R will help her out when she needs it.
  15. Then they’ll repeat the process with the next part of the story.

I remember doing this with my language parent Soeur Agnes with an article from Paris Match-good thing too! It referred to Roissy, and I would have had no idea that that referred to Charles de Gaulle Airport!

The second variation goes like this:

  1. R tells a five minute version of her life story.
  2. A records it on her smartphone. She might need a small external speaker for playing back the recording so R can hear it well.
  3. A plays it back, stopping it whenever there is something that she doesn’t understand.
  4. R explains it, giving examples. Sometimes this will just be a matter of repeating herself more slowly, and that is ok!
  5. R makes a note of any new words or phrases that A asked about.
  6. Again, if A doesn’t ever stop the recording and say she doesn’t understand, R will stop the recording every sentence or so, and ask A to tell her what it said in her own words. R will explain and give examples as necessary.
  7. This continues to the end of the recording.
  8. R goes back over the new words giving examples and explanations again.
  9. A records this to listen to at home.
  10. A listens to the life story recording at home, and picks out some things she wants to know more about that R mentioned.
  11. The next time they meet, A retells R’s life story in her own words, with R’s help.
  12. Then A asks R about one of the things she wanted to know more about.
  13. A records R talking about this expansion of her life story, and the process of listening together and unpacking repeats.

I had a lot of fun doing this with a new American friend from Iraq. One of the things I mentioned in my life story was working on a milling machine in my first job after college. Of course I had to explain that. I felt funny doing it, since it’s a little obscure, and I didn’t think it would be relevant for him. The next time we met, my friend was all smiles! He’s a dentist, and had gone on an interview in an office that had a computerized system that made crowns…on a milling machine!

These examples are mostly of people learning English, but this game will work in any language, of course. There are many possible variations, be creative! The rule of thumb is that if you’re hearing 4-8 new words per hour of working with your conversation partner, then it’s the right level of difficulty. Less than that it’s too easy, more, it’s too hard for now.

Have you used this technique? How did it work? What questions do you have about it?

Am I Your Language Coach?

I coach people that are committed to growing into a new languacultural world through comprehension led language learning

Those are people that believe that language parents exist in the language they want to learn. They are willing to do what it takes to find them.  The focus is primarily on understanding and speaking, and then later on reading and writing if it is a written language. We meet once a week on Skype, where I encourage learners, help them set goals, troubleshoot problems, and give just in time training on techniques that are appropriate to their level,  This training often includes videos and documents.  As I said, my emphasis is on spoken language and I use communicative approaches.

I am not a good fit for people who prefer using a grammar translation approach or want to spend their time with apps instead of people. So, I’m not for everyone, but that’s ok!

This is an email I recently sent to someone interested in hiring me to be their language coach:

The people I coach work with a mother tongue speaker of the language they want to learn.

They find a language parent– a mother tongue speaker that plays games with them in the language.

I generally only agree to coach people who can spend a minimum of 10 hours a week with their language parent, and they nearly always pay these language parents.

We meet once a week on Skype or some other video app to teach you the games that you would be playing the next week, to encourage you, and to answer your questions.

These are videos of the beginning games you would play.

I coach people with a comprehension led approach. So, the first times they meet with their language parent they play listening games. After about 30 hours of listening games, then they play some talking games and some listening games. Because this is comprehension led, reading and writing come later. Our beginning focus is on understanding and talking.

Does it sound like I am a good fit for you and your goals? Contact me to set up one free coaching call for you to learn more.


Thrift Store Language Treasures, pt. 1!

Go fishI got this Go Fish game at a thrift store in a bag with other cards. I was about to redonate it, because I don't think I particularly need to learn how to say "guppy." But then I realized that playing Go Fish and describing the fish would be a great game!

As always I am cutting off the text, so we're not limited by it. I need practice on colors, so this will be strategic to play right now.

Now, would I haul these cards with me to a developing country to use? Nope. But I'm Stateside now, and have access to my glorious bins of thrift store treasures. 

I did play go fish in mmmBELLYmay land, though. We were using a lot of food and other things that we got at the market, and the pile got overwhelmingly huge, and the fruit got rotten. So, I took a picture of each object separately and printed them in color. We played go fish, or as our language parent said, go look – boki n bani.

Have you played Go Fish in your new languacultural world?


Do you pay your language parent-helper-friend?

A few people had a great question after they read about me finding a language parent (helper, friend) with a flyer. What about paying them? Do you? Why didn't you mention it on your flyer?

Yep, I pay.

Because let me tell you, helping someone take their first (or millionth) steps into a new languacultural world is WORK! My language parents are so patient, watching and listening to me slaughter their language, repeating a word for the kazillionth time…they deserve to be paid. Being the language parent for a class myself showed me that really fast. 

And, helping me grow in language is a big time commitment-we're talking 10-20 hours a week. Since I am taking my first steps into the Deaf American world, I don't have any local Deaf friends yet besides my language parent (that's normal!), so I don't have anyone saying "I'll help you for free!" That will come later, maybe, but now at the beginning I need one super patient, super committed person to help me every day.

I didn't mention payment on my flyer-I didn't want to start there. I wanted to start when I met people just seeing if we clicked, seeing if they seemed like they would go along with the Growing Participator Approach

How much? 

Depends. I talked to another coach who works on ASL with the Deaf using this method, and went with what he's been paying. When I met my language parent for the first time, and we decided that it would work out for us, I floated that number, and she was happy. We added on a little bit for gas this time around because she's coming to me now.

Here's one way Greg Thomson, the compiler of the Growing Participator Approach and my hero, suggests figuring out payment overseas. Talk to a local person, not another foreigner, and ask them how much they pay a student to come tutor their kids. That's a good place to start.

Now, I have coached people that weren't allowed by their organizations to pay language helpers. They still succeeded, it just took a lot of tenacity and flexibility, and they got off to a slower start than people who were allowed to pay. They were also focused full time on language, had no other responsibilities, and were highly motivated, that's why it worked. 

What's your experience paying or not paying for help growing into a new languacultural world?