By Thomas Moore Devlin
There’s lots of advice out there about how to learn a new language. You can find tips on how to memorize vocab, figure out grammatical gender and improve your accent. Almost all of these resources, at some point, suggest practicing with another person, but we realize that’s not always as easy as it sounds.
If you don’t already know someone fluent in the language you’re learning, it can be tough to find another person with whom you can practice your language skills. There are plenty of online communities that connect people in-person or over Skype, but that can add social stress to language-learning stress. Lucky for you, there’s another human resource available to you: your friends.
You might have to work a little to convince your friends to learn a new language with you. To help you out, we have some great tips to get them to come around.
Peer pressure gets a pretty bad rap. Sure, maybe it’s not always the best idea to use someone’s fears of social exclusion against them. But if you really think about it, most of the things we do are caused by peer pressure in some way or another. Without peer pressure, we’d all be wearing sweatpants to fancy restaurants, and we’d probably burp significantly louder in public. Every so often, peer pressure can do something positive for the world. Pressuring your peers into learning a new language, for example, is a great idea! Next time you’re hanging out, try dropping a few hints like, “Wouldn’t this be more fun if it were in Russian?” or “Gee, all my best friends know French.” They’ll eventually catch on.
There are so many benefits to learning a language. The obvious ones come to mind first, like “becoming a better communicator” and “connecting with the world.” But that’s hardly the end of it. Learning a language has major benefits for your brain, like fending off dementia and improving your ability to multitask. It can also literally make you happier, because it activates your brain’s reward centers. And this is all before you even become good at the language and start using it at your job or on vacation! Frankly, there’s no excuse for your friends not to learn a new language with you.
Yes, I said bribe. I’m not suggesting you slip your friend a $20 bill every time they finish a language lesson. Unless you’re really determined and have a lot of money to spare, that’s entirely impractical. Instead, maybe you could buy them a round of drinks if they practice their Spanish, or you could go out to a nice French restaurant together once they’ve got all their French vocabulary down. And then there’s the pinnacle of rewards: vacationing together in a country that speaks your target language.
Technically, those examples aren’t really bribes at all. You and your friend will just be rewarding yourselves for accomplishing something together!
When you’re learning a language with your friends, you might just get together for coffee and quiz each other on verb conjugations. And that’s helpful! There’s no reason not to do that every so often. But as you probably know already, studying as a group isn’t always the most effective (or exciting) way to study.
If you want to keep your new language from feeling like a chore, you’ll want to incorporate it into your life a little more naturally. When you play a sport together, learn sports vocabulary so you can communicate with each other. When you’re cooking, try to find a recipe in your target language that you can work together to understand. And for people who like to go to pubs and bars, there’s some evidence that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can help you pick up a new language. That means you can enjoy a night on the town and still work on perfecting your accent.
Alright, let’s say you’ve tried a few of these tactics, and they aren’t working. Now’s the time to sit your friend down and tell them that they owe you this. Learning a language takes, what, a few minutes a day? That doesn’t begin to compare to the amount of time you spent coaching them through their breakup with Bob last year. And then they got back together with Bob! And they broke up again! It was totally exhausting. Oh, and let’s not forget the many, many improv performances you went to when they decided to do that for a few months.
Friendship isn’t some game where you keep score, so obviously don’t use this as an excuse to guilt your friends. But, really, don’t you think your friends could at least try to learn a language with you?
Why Go to Such Lengths to Convince Your Friends?
No matter how strong your friendship is, learning a skill together can make it even stronger. And learning a language is a perfect skill to start with! It can really come in handy to be able to communicate with each other in a second language.
On the other side of the equation, learning a language with someone else will help each of you a lot individually. Yes, it’s great to be able to study and celebrate together, but the benefits extend far beyond that. Learning with a friend makes you accountable to each other, and you’ll be able to give each other much-needed support when you’ve hit a learning plateau. You’ll become closer friends, and you’ll grow stronger as individuals. It’s a win-win.
Your friends might be reluctant to start learning a language with you, but it’s certainly worth it to try to convince them. Together, there are so many places learning can take you.