IWTYAL 029: Learning your partner’s language

itunesButtonMany people have asked: “I’m struggling to learn my partner’s language, why is it so hard?”

In this episode:

  • Why it can be so difficult to learn your partner’s language
  • The danger of looking to your family or loved ones for language practice
  • How you can make regular, consistent progress by externalising your learning routines

Resources mentioned in today’s episode:

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  • dandiprat

    Yeah, just having relatives is not enough. You have to make a concerted effort independent of your relatives or you won’t learn very fast if at all. I talk to my wife all the time, but I learned Mandarin before I met her. I wouldn’t say I learned very much as a result because most of our talk is very routine and talking to just one person is usually just limited to a certain scope of vocabulary and situations. I would say I learn most as a result of talking to her friends when we have a party or other social activity.

    Next week my in-laws are moving in with us from Vietnam. They use Cantonese. I’ve been studying it for years using all manner of resources including your sponsor italki.com so hopefully we won’t have too many language-related problems.

    • That’s great. Once you’ve got the foundation there, and you can actually speak, having friends and family is just a turbo boost for your skills! Is Chinese your daily language with your wife?

      • dandiprat

        When we first met we just spoke Mandarin because that was the only way to communicate, although I personally had no desire to speak anything other than Mandarin with anyone. We were classmates in Taiwan studying advanced level Mandarin.

        After we got married I tried to use English as much as possible with her because we were living in the USA and I wanted her to learn it quickly although she still speaks to me a lot in Mandarin. When we first met I started learning Cantonese and Vietnamese independently and with live tutors (there was no iTalki at the time unfortunately) although less talking with her and I learned a lot just listening to her speak Cantonese on the phone mostly about events I’d already heard her talk about in Mandarin.

        I use Cantonese with my in-laws now that they’ve just moved in although they seem to throw in Vietnamese expressions a lot, which I understand occasionally.

        There are certain language things that are hard to learn properly unless one is in a Chinese household, although I think those things can be learned relatively fast if you’ve already reached a certain level and after that you’re not learning a lot through daily living although it doesn’t hurt one bit.

        The main time I really feel like I’m learning is when I use my languages at parties and other social activities because talking to semi-strangers and acquaintances means using a much broader range of language and generally the conversations are higher level and more interesting. I never feel the desire to talk about anything interesting with my immediate family or my in-laws, perhaps because I don’t want to get into an argument with my family about politics or something and cause long-term tension, but with people outside the immediate circle I don’t worry about this as much.

        I’d probably get a lot less of this if I were not part of a Chinese family, even if I were living in a Chinese speaking country (that was the case when I lived in Taiwan). Having that family connection really opens up a whole broader community and people are much more willing to trust you, I think. They’re not going to see you as having ulterior motives for getting to know them.