Thursday, 5 July 2018

PHOTO POST: First lead yourself

So much of what it means to grow could be described as learning to lead yourself.
It's all very well to lead others, in whatever context, but until we learn good self-leadership, 
we run the risk of leading in ways that damage rather than serve people.
What does it mean to you to lead yourself well
in the area of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being?

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Help needed: language-learning ahead!

The past week I have felt all my extrovert tendencies come out to play. I am back in England, speaking my own language and in a culture I understand. Or mostly. At least, I don’t feel any need to make an apology when I don’t understand; I simply feel like I am owed an explanation, which is different. You'd think, having already had three experiences of language immersion, I would take it all in my stride. But as much as I truly love the Spanish language, it’s a relief to step away from all the hesitation, the uncertainty and the second-guessing that language-learning entails.

And since it is almost 3am and I am wide awake, on high alert for the noise of the taxi bringing my husband and daughter from the airport, here are 5 things I wish fluent speakers knew about language-learning - in any language - that would give a little extra help to those of us still getting to grips with vocabulary, verbs and idioms.

1. We need you to take the initiative.
It’s really hard when you are learning a language to be the one to strike up a conversation. There are a few rare individuals who, on meeting someone new, can launch into conversation with just their limited vocabulary, but most of us need some encouragement. In my own language, I will happily start chatting to anyone, whether at the checkout in the store, or waiting for drinks at the pub. But even though I have been learning Spanish for 5 years now, I still find that initial connection with people much harder to initiate. Language learners need carrying along in conversation a bit more, so fluent speakers - take the lead, assume we are keen to have a chat, and don’t leave us hanging!

2. We need you to go slow.
You know, when you’re speaking to someone who is just learning your language, it doesn’t help to speak the same way you would to a native speaker, only louder! Often we are watching you closely as you form words, desperately trying to separate out the sounds into coherent sentences. It helps us so much if you take your foot off the accelerator and speak clearly (you know, clearly, not so much so that it sounds like you’re speaking to your 95 year old grandmother who is completely deaf). Speaking slowly doesn’t mean that conversations can’t be interesting, or that the language-learner is an idiot. It just means that you’re making sure we’re tracking with you, and not still wondering what it was you said 5 minutes ago.

3. We need you to introduce us to people.
There is nothing more awkward as a language-learner than joining a group of people who all know one another. They allow you to sort of loiter on the edge of the group, but no one speaks to you because they have a lot of catching up to do, plus they’re not sure how to involve you in the conversation. One way to bridge a person into the group is to introduce them to everyone, using not just the person’s name but a little about them that might make the introduction stick. Maybe Carol is best friends with Michelle, or perhaps Elizabeth loves climbing mountains. Take your time and add some colour, remembering that it is much harder to be the single person trying to remember twenty people, even when you speak the language fluently.

4. We need you to open doors for us.
This is a little more than an introduction. Perhaps you could include us in your after-school coffee get-together, or maybe you could invite us to your gym, or your wine-tasting club. This doesn’t mean that you have to be our only friend, quite the opposite. It means that you are helping us to broaden our social network because we’re not even sure what opportunities are out there. And when you bring us into that group for the first time, be sure to add a comment that lets people know that we really want to learn about your language and culture, and that we’ll be sticking around for a while. You might not realise this, but lots of people fail to engage with us because they don’t realise how motivated we are to learn.

5. We need you to help us have fun.
This sounds silly, but when you’re learning a language there can be a lot of hard work and not as much fun as you’d think. Sure, it is funny to laugh at ourselves when we accidentally ask a guy if we can play with his balls, but it’s laughter with an edge of hysteria. Language-learning sort of strips you of your ability to express your personality for  a while, and especially of your ability to tell jokes and bring humour to a conversation (intentionally, that is). So you can help us both to laugh at our mistakes, and also to do fun things, to enjoy the lighter side of life. Smile at us a lot. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s ridiculously encouraging to think that someone sees us, sees through the stumbling and the struggle to make ourselves understood, and who likes us being there or our own sake.

The truth is, we want to learn your language and it’s a privilege to have that opportunity. And yet sometimes being a learner is a little scary, a little isolating, and a little discouraging. We want things to progress more quickly than they do. Your encouragement will help us a lot and, who knows, you might make a really good friend!