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8 Rules of Language Learning Etiquette for Non-Language Learners Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

Etiquette is very important, but not often written down. Is there etiquette for language learners, too?

Itchy Feet: Chopstitiquette

Seeing this vintage comic of mine made me wonder if there is a kind of etiquette for language learners. Are there rules for how to behave, and how not to behave, when learning a new language? After thinking about it, I realized there are more rules for those speaking to a language learner. These are rules that no one has written down, but someone probably should, because they’re important.

So if you’re learning a language and need to give that non-language-learner in your life a few tips about dealing with you, send them to my list of:

8 Unspoken Rules of Language Learning Etiquette:

1. DO correct language learners
Even though it might seem rude, we are learning, after all. We’re not offended if you correct our mistakes. In fact, it’s more offensive to us if you don’t, and let us keep saying things wrong! It’s the language equivalent of letting someone walk around with spinach in their teeth. Thanks for saying something…

2. DON’T switch to English (unless the language learner is learning English)
English isn’t “easier” for us, we’re intentionally trying to take on a new challenge. It’s like offering an elevator to the guy climbing the mountain. He’s doing it the hard way on purpose! We didn’t get into this to speak English, and when that comes up it can often feel like “welp, I’ve failed.”

3. DO be patient and let language learners finish, even if it takes a while
We get it. It can be annoying to wait while we’re chewing through the grammar slower than a mule on a hot summer day. But it’s really important work – we’re connecting synapses and building skills that way. Just wait patiently for us to finish. Unless we tell you otherwise, of course! Sometimes we don’t want to be embarrassed by our slowness and want someone to interrupt and rescue us.

4. DON’T ask where a language learner is from, first thing, when you hear an accent
That’s telling us, “oh, you’re weird. Why are you so weird?” At least pretend you’re interested in whatever else we’re talking about for a little while before you call us out on our imperfect pronunciation.

5. DO give books, movies, even magazine articles as gifts
It’s a cheap, easy gift, and we’ll be touched that you remembered. Even something as simple as the day’s newspaper is a nice excuse to stretch our language learning muscles, and something we may not have had time to pick up ourselves. Thanks in advance!

6. DON’T immediately start speaking super slowly or dumb down the language
We’re not idiots. Don’t speak to us in pidgin, using incorrect grammar or simple words on purpose, hoping we’ll understand better. That only makes things worse. If you’re going too fast, or we can’t understand, we’ll let you know, and then you can bring out the training wheels. Just don’t assume we need them right away!

7. DO say an encouraging word
Don’t lay it on too thick, but do let us know we’re doing well. It may seem like a little thing to you, but it makes for a big boost in morale on our end when a native speaker lends a positive word now and then.

8. DON’T feel bad if you don’t know why your language works the way it does
We’re probably going to ask a lot of questions, like “why does that word go there?” or “when do you use this case, and when do you use that case?” or “what’s the difference between this word and that very similar word?” You probably won’t know the answers, unless you’re a teacher of your language, and that’s okay. Don’t expect to be an expert, just say “it just sounds right!” We’ll know to look elsewhere for our technical questions, and be able to just enjoy the chat!

What do you think, fellow language learners? Any other rules of etiquette worth adding to the list?


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About the Author:Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.

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