Advice for native speakers of a language when encountering foreigners learning their language
Of course this is aimed at people who want to help others learn their native language. It’s based on personal experiences from when I first came to France. If the language learner you meet is advanced and speaks fluently you might not have to do any of these. But I think they’re
good to keep in mind when meeting new language learners.
1. Slow down a bit. Don’t do that thing often shown in movies where people speak super loud and as if in slow motion. Speaking super slow doesn’t help much with understanding or learning and shouting is useless unless you’re in a noisy environment. Just slightly slow down your normal talking speed, it makes it easier to recognize more individual words and phrases. And maybe dial down on colloquialisms a bit at first.
2. Give the person time to process what you said. Sometimes it can take a few moments to realize what was just said to us when we don’t speak the language well (even if the person is speaking slower than their normal speed). So don’t just assume the person didn’t understand you if they don’t respond immediately, give them a moment first.
3. Ask if they understood what you said once in a while. Also offer to repeat or explain things. Some people won’t have a problem letting you know if they didn’t understand a word or a phrase, but others might feel bad asking you to repeat yourself multiple times (I know I do). So just ask every once in a while to make sure they’re still following you.
4. Use simple words to explain things. If the person is just starting out with their language learning then they don’t have a large vocabulary so using unnecessarily long sentences filled with fancy words will just confuse them even more. Simpler is always better.
Example: I once had to call a phone company’s help line to resolve an issue. I told the person I didn’t speak French very well, carefully explained the problem and he spent ten minutes talking at normal speed, explaining something to me and I didn’t understand a word. When I told him I didn’t understand he spent even longer repeating what he said and going in even more detail and I still had no idea what he was saying. I was too embarrassed and didn’t want to spend twenty more minutes on the phone with this guy so I just told him I got it and hung up. The next time I called, someone else answered and they explained it to me clearly in a fraction of the time and I understood them perfectly.
So keep your explanations short and simple.
5. If they can’t think of a word in your language and say it in another language you have in common, tell them the word in your language before moving on with the conversation. So many times people have just nodded in understanding and moved on with the conversation without telling me the French word when I’ve used an English word for something in the middle of a sentence. It can be a bit frustrating to have to interrupt the conversation to ask for clarification after every sentence (and for those of us on the shy and/or socially anxious side it’s also nerve-wracking). Conversations will flow much smoother if you just throw in the translation of the word in your language and then move on. Also
6. Don’t automatically switch to another common language after they use a word or a phrase from that language when they can’t think of them in your language. Ask first. It might be easier for both of you, but it doesn’t help them learn your language. If you want to practice that other language with them then make a deal about when you’re going to speak which language with each other. That way you’ll both get to practice your target language. So just ask them if they want to continue in that language, but don’t switch without asking. Again, some people will be more than comfortable in telling you which language they’d rather be speaking in, but others might not.
That’s all I can think of for now. Feel free to add your own advice