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We all remember clutching someone’s hand so we wouldn’t get left behind on a class field trip: the good ole’ buddy system. It’s a simple action, holding someone’s hand, but it provides that extra layer of safety and accountability we all needed at a young age. What about now that we’re a bit older, though? Can we still benefit from the buddy system?
If you’re learning a language, my answer would undoubtedly be yes. I don’t mean you need someone to figuratively (or literally!) hold your hand through each step of your language-learning journey. But it’s also unwise to go it alone, especially if you’re the type who gets bored easily or lacks motivation. Here are five good reasons you should use the buddy system when learning a language:
It’s really easy to skip the gym if you usually go by yourself—nobody ever has to know! The same goes for studying a language. Don’t feel like spending 30 minutes reading the next chapter of your language book? If nobody even knows you were planning on doing it, it’s all too easy to just brush it off for a day (which can turn in to two days, then three days, until… well, you see my point).
It won’t help just to tell someone you’re going to learn a language, either. Studies have actually shown that those who tell others about their goals are less likely to achieve them. Chances are, if you’ve divulged your lofty goal to learn Thai over the next 12 months, you’ve received a lot of praise and admiration. And when you can get that positive feedback without having to put in the hard work towards achieving your goal, it’s like a placebo for real accomplishment. Why put forth the effort when you already get that little high from the praise?
Here’s where the buddy system helps. If you made a pact with a friend to study a language together, you are there to hold one another accountable. For example, that chapter you didn’t feel like the reading earlier—if you both agree to study the same chapter at night and go over it together the next day, it’s a little harder to just skip out.
Your language-learning buddy isn’t just there to force you to do the work, though. One of the most motivating byproducts of learning together is having someone who truly understands how hard you’re working. There’s no better feeling than sharing major accomplishments—your first real conversation, that time you finally understand when and how to use the subjunctive, you name it—with someone who has been through it themselves. Take advantage of the buddy system and you’ll have someone there to cheer you on and celebrate each little victory along the way to fluency.
Not all of the benefits of the buddy system are the warm-and-fuzzy type. One of the most practical reasons to learn with a partner is that it gives you the opportunity to use the language. Even if you’re the ultra-motivated type and don’t need to be held accountable or get a pat on the back every time you use the right case, learning on your own doesn’t give you much opportunity to speak the language.
Even if you’re both beginners who still butcher basic pronunciation, having a speaking partner around on a frequent basis is an advantage. Speaking isn’t just about perfecting your pronunciation. in fact you can get by just fine in a foreign language with an accent—I mean Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his uber Austrian accent, ran California for a while, didn’t he? Having a speaking partner will help you get comfortable producing and using the language at a more rapid pace, a skill you’ll need when conversing with native speakers. And when it’s a friend who is at a similar skill level as you, it provides a comfortable environment to stumble over your words and make mistakes without fear of judgment or failure.
Another benefit to learning with someone at your level? A little friendly competition. Sure, it’s motivating to have a friend counting on you and cheering for you, but what about a friend who is competing with you? For some, this can be demotivating, and language learning certainly shouldn’t be a race. But FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful emotion. You wouldn’t want to be the one who gives up on the language, only to look back 6 months later and see how far your friend has progressed. Use that as fuel to better yourself, not best your friend.
Lest you think I’m a monster who turns everything into a competition, let me say that I think the #1 benefit to learning with a buddy is simply that you have someone to share the experience with. Watching a foreign language film by yourself? Not bad. Turning it into a full-fledged movie night where you get together, make a recipe from your target culture, and watch the flick together? Wonderful. Learning a language takes a long time and a lot of effort, but sharing that experience with someone else makes it a lot more enjoyable. Learning a language as a duo (or a trio or an entire family) redirects the focus from the destination to the journey. It doesn’t get much better than that.
What about you? Are you learning a language with a friend or family member, or do you prefer to learn alone?