Language Learning Allies and Enemies

So here’s my list of the kinds of people that are my language learning allies:

  • The L2-only Native Speaker who talks to me at full speed, uses colorful language, and lets me negotiate for the things I missed.  These people are happy to see you, happy to talk to you, happy to help you speak. If they hear you make a mistake, these people correct you within the thread of the conversation, and let you correct yourself.  For me, these people have been cab drivers, masseuses, shop keepers that I see regularly.  It’s amazing when your teacher turns out to be one of these people.  The better your proficiency gets, the more of these people you find.
  • The L1/L2 Native Speaker who you can rely on for a kick-ass translation.  For me, these are my friends CS and Davidico, or Esti for Spanish, and plenty of others.  I actually have a 24-hour world-wide network of Spanish speakers on Facebook chat; there always seems to be someone that can help me at any time of day.
  • The L2 Ally.  For me, these are native speakers of English who know the gaps in my L2 and can teach me right in the moment I need it.  Amber and Kiwi Jim were my biggest L2 Allies in Chinese, I don’t think I had people like that in my life for other languages.
  • The Good Classmates:  these are the people who are more or less at your same level, who want to practice speaking L2 outside of class, who share their materials with you.  I’m lucky this year, my classmates (including 丹宁D) are all really Good Classmates.
  • The Good Beginners, the people whose L2 level is below my own, but who are generously interested in learning.  These people are good for me because when I have to explain something to someone else, I feel it crystallize in my own mind. Look at it this way, the Good Beginners me a chance to be a L2 Ally.

Here are the people that are toxic to language learning:

  • The Stumpers; the native speakers or advanced proficiency L2 speakers who enjoy stumping you, they make you feel bad and not want to speak in front of them.
  • The Surrender Monkeys:  the native speakers who don’t make an effort to help you understand.  They give up and walk away, or call in…
  • The Translator, who think’s he’s rescuing me by telling me everything in English, I can remember two times when I’ve actually needed English rescue, both where situations where I felt like I was under a lot of pressure.  (A lot of people seek out the translator, or rely on a family member to be their translator, or think that it’s their job to become a translator.  If you’ve studied for years but still can’t speak, reflect on your life and see if you’ve been relying on translation service).
  • The Finish-It Classmate, who just wants to finish the homework so that it’s done, and wants to practice as little as possible.
  • The Logician is the classmate that stops the class to argue about the logic of a certain vocabulary or grammatical structure.  The Logician wields the phrases “I don’t understand,” and “it doesn’t make sense” like a weapon, when they really mean, “English is better.”
  • The Confirmer is the classmate who interrupts an L2 conversation to give English translation.  One time I was talking about the “la comunicación” in Spanish class, and a student raised her hand, and said, “wait, does that mean “communication?”  Duh.  The Confirmer always “Just has to make sure.”  What the Confirmer should know is that when you ask for English, the brain remembers ENGLISH, and forgets the L2.
  • The Mansplainer.  This is the classmate that stops the conversation to talk in English about grammar; not to clarify, but just because it’s comforting to be able to contribute. I’ve heard a Mansplainer stop a Spanish lesson to talk about how German grammar is different.
  • The Class Clown.  This person tries to find English-based humor in L2, like it’s a joke contest.  This person is a nightmare to work with in small groups.
  • The Teacher Mommies/Daddies.  These are the teachers that talk to you slow and treat you like children.  They are more interested in being a mommy/daddy figure than improving your L2.

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