This weekend I had a chance to participate as a speaker in Women in Language event. I had many ideas about my talk’s topic , but eventually I decided to share my recent teaching experience – teaching my native Polish to my partner.
In multicultural relationships, commonly, the easiest way to communicate is to use the language you were using when you met for the first time. In my case, my husband is British and our official couple language is English. As we live in the UK, in an English environment, we don’t plan to live in Poland, we would need to embark on our learning/ teaching journey.
However, love can be a big catalyst for language learning! When I saw my husband’s interest in my culture, my roots and language I decided to keep this enthusiasm going and make him love my language. But I knew that if we go into traditional teaching and learning at home this enthusiasm can quickly fade away. I didn’t want to change our house into a classroom and wear my teacher’s hat all the time. Instead I decided to use some alternative methods of teaching and learning and implement them in our life together.
So we decided to give a go at this Polish adventure, but firstly, I looked at the barriers we would need to overcome to make it successful.
Barriers and challenges for teaching your partner in your household
Some people think that a native partner is already a key for learning a language. Nothing could be more wrong.
- No classroom settings
- Familiarity with the person
- Seriousness about this teaching / learning experience
- Time constraints
- Not being necessarily a professional teacher
- Keeping the difference between enthusing and pressurising
And the big reason not to do it is the fact that English is increasingly the world’s leading international language and we could both stay in our English language comfort zone.
Benefits of learning your partner language
- Working knowledge of the partner’s language
- Having meaningful conversations with partner’s family and friends
- Not feeling excluded when surrendered by Poles
- Managing on your own when the partner is away
- Insight into a different culture and mentality
Despite all obstacles, there are so many benefits. Being able to join a conversation at a table, feeling a part of the family, understanding what’s going on when surrounded by Poles and accessing someone else’s culture can add so much to your life. Being with someone from a different culture brings a new dimension to your relationship.
Once you go through the potential obstacles you will have to overcome, it’s time to set your realistic goal. In our case it’s not about reaching C2 level , it’s about being more comfortable when visiting Poland and interacting when surrounded by Poles.
In many situations my husband won’t use Polish and hence there is no need to learn unnecessary vocabulary. So, think about those situations where he might use your language. In our case is:
- Between us
- Family home in Poland
- My Polish friends in the UK
- Polish shops in the UK
- Polish meetups
- Polish restaurants when ordering food
How to introduce your native language into your household?
With time constraints and not wanting a classroom style learning in our house, I came up with some ideas to keep it attractive at home. We both agree where and when we will do it.
The Kitchen is our main area where we use the Polish language. Food and drink items we are using, cutlery we are passing… plus on the wall I put a Polish calendar and my husband’s task is to say what the day is. We also revise time and say what’s the weather looking out of the window. All that happens eating our porridge and slices of toasts.
Imaginary person/ object
We have a third imaginary person in the house that I comment to in Polish. This little bird understands Polish and I can address him in my language. This way I keep the language active, I can use 3rd person when commenting to him on my husband.
If you have pets at home, you can talk to your cat, dog in your native language.
When my husband is shopping, I prepare the list for him in Polish. He still may call me from the shop when he forgets the meaning of a product.
Our information board
Still in the kitchen, I try to keep our information board with things to do, things to buy in Polish. The more Polish he sees , the better.
Fridge = small whiteboard
Keep a small whiteboard on the door of your fridge where you can write a sentence, a new word. Each time he reaches for the fridge he may learn something!
15 minute lounge learning
We both committed to do a short moment of learning that we can both afford. It’s our down time and we treat it as a part of our evening together. No English for 15 minutes. It’s time and we use this time to converse, to revise or learn a new expression.
Create vocabulary related to each room where you spent time together. Think about the sentences you would use in English and prepare your card, then keep them handy.
Use your phone
When sending short messages on Whatsapp or text I write in Polish using the vocab I know he will understand.
Watching Polish movies together
Watching Polish Netflix shows with English subtitles or Polish films related to his interests is a good method for keeping him enthusiastic
Journeys in the car
A good moment to go for a 10-15 minute Polish chat.
Having Polish friends around
Interacting with other Polish people that he feels comfortable with is a great booster for his language confidence
Blending your culture in your common life is a must for keeping the enthusiasm going. Think about holidays and festivities in your country and fit them in your couple calendar.
We celebrate Christmas in a Polish and British way on the 24th and 25th December
Tools & tips
Tools & tips
- Handy notebook in the kitchen
- Log of learning
- Handy expressions:
Phrases to get names of things
Phrases to control the conversation
Asking for meaning of a verb
- Prepare for social situations
- Develop a plan together
- Agree on time and place when you will learn
Tips for the teacher
- Be patient
- Be willing to repeat things
- Do your teaching regularly
- Do not dismiss or correct them in a strong way
- Appreciate every effort
- Be motivational, not pushy
There are many benefits of this household learning/ teaching exercise. I’m having a deeper connection with my husband, he can understand better my cultural background and it’s a new experience added to his life, cultural and mental.
Moreover, he has constant access to a native speaker and he is learning a living language.
For me, his interest in my language, my culture and my backgrounds are signs of respect and love. I’m grateful and appreciate his efforts and I will keep this enthusiasm going as much as I can.
Are you in a multicultural relationship? Is your partner learning your language?
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