So you’ve made friends with, or are serious with, or even married with someone who doesn’t speak your native language, even though you have already learned to speak theirs.

It’s so nice when you’re able to speak comfortably in your native language. To be able to express your feelings verbally in a way that makes you feel like you have truly expressed what you wish to say, and not just a reasonable facsimile in a language that you may not yet be natively fluent in. It can be so difficult and exhausting to express your feelings in a way that doesn’t translate so easily to the other language.

After some encouragement and effort, your friend or partner finally wants to learn to speak your language! How wonderful is that. Now comes the hard part…how do you do it so that they succeed in learning to speak your language?

You’ve probably met that mixed couple where the husband or wife doesn’t speak their partner’s language. They may say, “Well he/she tried to teach me but it just didn’t work and I gave up”. Or, “I took classes but what I was learning didn’t sound anything like how he/she actually speaks.” We have certainly heard this before, lots of times.

So here are a few pointers to help you successfully help your friend/lover/partner to learn to speak your language:

  1. Unless you’re a professionally-trained teacher, it’s probably better to encourage them to take a course taught by professional teachers rather than take the cheap route and fail, where they will likely never try to learn your language again. Go with your friend and meet with the teacher, and ask them how you can help your friend to learn to speak your language. They will have some suggestions for you that will help how they are learning in class, and not make it even more difficult. Some suggestions will include:
  2. Use the vocabulary that your teacher is teaching your friend. A language learner can only learn and make use of about 20 words a day maximum. If they come back from class and you start adding a bunch of new words, this will overwhelm and confuse them.
  3. Speak using the grammar the teacher is teaching. If your friend comes home and speaks a bit formally, speak back using the same grammar. Don’t try to teach them the local slang right away. This is specially true for bahasa Indonesia because there is such a huge difference between formal and informal language. New language learners need to learn the rules first, before they can break them. Otherwise, if they only learn informal language, they will have a much more difficult time learning the rules later. Speak clearly and slowly enough for them to understand, but not like you’re talking to a child or they may feel you’re talking down to them. 
  4. Don’t laugh at their effort. They may make a lot of mistakes, get confused, words mixed up, incorrect grammar, sound funny. Don’t mock their effort…and don’t teach them. That is the teacher’s job. Just say, “We say it like this” and repeat the correct sentence.
  5. Don’t bring them into conversations where everyone is speaking informally. The new language learner needs time to adjust their ears, so don’t expect them to understand what everyone else at the table is saying. It’s exhausting trying to understand the different ways that people speak the same language, even if they come from the same city. In Indonesia, people can come from anywhere and can speak Indonesian language very differently from one another. Let your friend listen in, but don’t put them in a position to have to speak to everyone right away. Let them learn how to do this at their own pace.

The keys then are to stay positive, patient, optimistic and motivated, and to share this attitude and joy of learning with your friend. 

If you keep these five things in mind when helping the person you care about to learn your language, you will be doing them a very big favor with a even bigger reward…the joy of being able to speak with them in your language!