Kindness. It may not be something you immediately associate with learning a language, but actually you often don’t find one without the other.
Seems strange? Think of the first time you practiced a foreign language with a native speaker. How did they react? Probably you made some mistakes, but still… you could see they appreciated that you were making the effort to learn.
Perhaps it was the smile they gave you, or the way they slowed down just a little to make it easier for you to understand. It is these little acts of kindness that give us confidence and motivate us to keep trying to learn languages, especially when learning as an adult.
World Kindness Day seems like a good day to think about the role kindness plays in language learning. Sometimes, learning a language feels like an endless, difficult, uphill hike to fluency, and even once you get there, you’re still working hard to keep it going! A kind word here and there can be just what you need to overcome your fears and keep it up on the road to fluency.
You also see kindness and support from other language learners. The great thing is that everyone who learns a language is in the same boat. You all start from the same place, and though it takes different routes and speeds to reach the destination, it’s possible for everyone to get there eventually.
At Tandem, we’ve always been big champions of being kind and supportive to each other. In a lot of ways, being a member of the Tandem community is an act of kindness in itself. You are offering yourself as a teacher to help someone else learn. Sure, you’ll learn too in this kind of exchange, but you still need to be willing to share valuable time. That’s a precious gift in our fast-moving age!
Here are some ways you can show kindness to your language exchange partner:
Give them some praise
Meaningful praise makes us feel good! Yet perhaps the last time you got praise for doing a good job was when you were at school. Know that praise is highly motivational when you learn a language, and don’t be afraid to dish it out when it is deserved! Find something to praise in your partner’s language skills, particularly if you can see that they are struggling.
It is great to highlight areas where they have improved over time – remind them where they were when they started, and how far they have come since there, for example. But actually, just a simple “well done” or “great job” will also go a long way to build your partner’s confidence.
Go at their pace
It is a challenge to find a language partner who is exactly the same level as you (though our new Language Levels feature should help with this). Even if you are the same level technically, we are naturally more comfortable with some skills than others – so you might be confident in your grammar knowledge, while your partner excels at pronunciation.
The kindest thing you can do is to be patient and go at their pace. Recognise your differences and give them space to improve gradually over time. Rushing them to reach your level quickly is not a charitable thing to do, as it’s likely to cause them stress and gain a negative impression of the language.
Being reliable is one of the kindest things you can do as a language exchange partner! It is demoralising to decide on a time for a video language exchange, then have your partner stand you up. Ensure this doesn’t happen by communicating well and trying to be as reliable as possible!
If they ask for help… give it
While a Tandem exchange should usually be pretty equal between partners, sometimes your partner will need help with something that you don’t expect – be it some homework advice, exam revision or even just a random question about your language.
Don’t hesitate to lend a helping hand! It feels good to help someone else, especially considering they may come from a country where it’s hard to find people that speak your language. They are likely to return the favor in the future!
Be honest – but constructive
Honesty is nearly always the best policy, and your partner will thank you for telling it like it is. However, do think about how you phrase things and give feedback as considerately as possible.
Also stop to think if the feedback you are giving is actually useful. Does it clearly help solve an issue your partner is having? For example, it isn’t very helpful to say that your partner’s pronunciation isn’t good in general, but you could instead model some examples of correct pronunciation, or practice together saying a few words that are really challenging. Focusing on one small, solvable issue within a bigger problem can be much more constructive than pointing out the seemingly insurmountable large issue without helping to solve it.
They just took some time out of their day to learn with you. It’s always nice to say thanks! Even if you might not find it necessary in your own culture, a “thank you” goes a long way.
And last but not least…
Be kind to yourself!
Set a good example for your partner by not being overly critical of yourself. You aren’t going to be able to speak if you’re stressed! So take it easy!
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If there’s one piece of language learning advice to remember, it is to never pass up an opportunity to practice your skills – especially when you least expect to use them! You never know… it could end up getting you a bargain. Ndiya, a member of Tandem from Texas, USA, experienced this firsthand when she put her Spanish skills to the test. Here’s her story!