Language-Learning Starts With a Conversation

March 9, 2015 / by Mango (PS)

It’s easy to provide assignees with language-learning resources and send them on their way. However, language-learning is best when it takes place in the context of culture. Take for example this Italian phrase:

Avere le orecchie foderate di prosciutto.

Literally, it translates as to have one’s ears lined with ham. Wait, what?

While words and vocabulary will help assignees navigate basic conversations initially, in order to really flourish, they must also understand culture to tune into the subtleties of languages, including common slang and turns of phrase. The figurative translation of Avere le orecchie foderate di prosciutto is to be unable to hear what can be clearly heard.

In order to keep the prosciutto from lining your assignee's orecchie, try some of these out-of-the-box ways to help them master the art of conversation:

Act as a resource.

The vocabulary assignees encounter in the first few weeks of language-learning is pretty simple: greetings, directions…not exactly the stuff of stimulating conversation. But what about when they’re actually living in country day-to-day? What are the hot topics they need to know about? Who are the cultural icons? What does a day-in-the-life really look like? With these things in mind, provide assignees with a list of supplementary vocabulary they’re likely to encounter as they adjust. And, there’s no reason you shouldn’t encourage them to have a little fun while they’re at it. For help, check out Mango’s specialty courses like French Wine and Cheese, Brazilian Portuguese Soccer Celebration and Mandarin Feng Shui.

Encourage them to find a speaking partner.

Take a cue from the German university tradition of Sprachpartner finden: finding a speaking partner. In this arrangement, two people, each looking to learn the other’s language, meet regularly for coffee or a drink and practice speaking in both languages. This setup also allows the native speaker to share their own home culture and language, which can be a powerful way for your visiting employee to combat culture shock.

Match speaking partners within your organization to initiate your employees to practice their language skills with one another. Or, be creative and consider an office lunch, happy hour or other traditional gathering in the country where your employees are located.

Keep them accountable.

Let’s be real: conversing in a foreign language can be awkward. Keep your team on track! Encourage assignees to keep practicing the new language by having them teach you a new phrase or vocabulary word every time you talk, or by asking them about how their non-English-speaking colleagues are doing. This holds them accountable to practicing, and eventually, they’ll stop caring so much about the mistakes they make.

Finally, make sure they’re keeping up with Mango Languages courses for practical phrases, vocabulary, grammar and, of course, culture to help them speak with confidence!

Topics: Corporate

Mango (PS)

Written by Mango (PS)

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