I have talked often about using a “language helper” to learn the language and I want to take a bit of time to explain it today. But first I will talk about what a language helper (LH) is not.
A LH is not a teacher. They are not a tutor. They will not be experts in grammar – at least not any more than the average American is an expert in English grammar – who can tell me what a participle phrase is?
So what is a language helper?
A language helper is a native speaker of the language you are wanting to learn. They should be fairly outgoing, have a good accent in the eyes of their peers and be open to your doing a way of learning language that they will most likely be entirely unfamiliar with. They are not lesson planners and will not be planning the time you spend with them – they just get to talk and sip tea.
How do I find a language helper?
Finding a language helper can be a challenge. If you live in the target language context – either overseas or in an ethnic neighborhood – it could be as easy as exchanging English conversation time for your time with the LH. It could be a friendly neighbor interested in helping you learn his or her language so they can actually speak with you! Or it could mean finding a university student to pay the local minimum wage (or a bit better) for a few hours of their time each week. If you are still in your home country, look for the ethnic communities in your area. It may take a bit of work, but you can find a language helper.
How do I work with a language helper?
So you have located a language helper, but what do you do now? Well, first off, you will be doing all of the planning for your time with your helper. It could be as simple as just choosing a topic to talk about. Or you could plan activities that give you loads of comprehensible input. You can see more of these activities in all of my Tips and Ideas posts.
One thing you most certainly want to do is find out about all the real life situations that you will be encountering. I remember going through how to answer the door, how to answer the phone, what to say to get off the bus, how to order water for our home, what to say when I want to leave a home, etc.
You can find a great summary of how to use language helpers in the LACE book though and it would be well worth you time to look through it, download it or purchase it.
A last thing I would always recommend doing with your language helper is to record content. Record dialogues that you have generated with them. Record journals that you have written. Record anything you do with them. This will create a system of integrated review that you can take with you everywhere.
How often should I meet with my Language Helper?
Well, everyone has different schedules so you need to figure out what works best for you. The most I ever met was four days a week for an hour and a half at a time. But even meeting once a week would be beneficial.
I think one important thing to think about is your beliefs about language learning. If you believe you have to have a teacher to learn language, this may not be the system for you. Having a good understanding of how and why to use a language helper is essential.