I’ve seen a number of posts circling the web on “the best ways to learn a language,” and quite often (and near the top!), “pillow talk” is offered as a means of learning a language.
It’s almost like they advocate dating a native speaker of your target language just for the sake of learning the language.
Yes, it’s great to have friends and a community of people around you to help you learn a language, but encouraging an intimate relationship just to learn a language? That’s just a little bit too much for me.
Even though dating someone who speaks another language is a great reason to learn the language (note the language learning comes second), I don’t believe in doing the reverse. You learn your significant other’s language to have another reason to connect with them; you don’t date someone to learn a language.
Not to mention, this advice also assumes that the person you’re with is a willing teacher (which often isn’t the case).
I don’t want to point fingers and direct you to any one article (and because there are several I’ve stumbled across), so instead I’ll talk about why, in my personal opinion, I don’t think this is a great language learning strategy.
Here’s why I really don’t like this language learning advice:
Dating someone to learn a language isn’t necessarily a good idea because:
1. They laugh at you. When you make mistakes, your significant other sometimes laughs at you. More often than not, this is because they think the mistakes are cute. Even though they aren’t necessarily making fun of you, it still can be a little embarrassing and therefore discouraging. You want to impress the person you’re dating, so making mistakes in front of them usually isn’t something we’re willing to do and you can’t afford to wait until you speak a language perfectly to start using it. As much as we can hope to learn another language perfectly, it’s highly unlikely. Even native speakers don’t speak “perfectly.”
2. They aren’t always good at teaching. Teaching is a skill that not everyone is blessed with and so you can’t count on your significant other having that skill. Plus, they might not be as patient with you as one would ideally hope they’d be.
3. The language you start a relationship in is often the language that sticks. When you start trying to speak another language later, there may be some resistance and it’s easy to just slip back into using the first language and ignore the second. You’d have to really work at bringing another language into the equation.
4. The claim that you’ll learn it more quickly isn’t true. Teachers, whether they are your significant other or not, can only provide you with the tools to learn (if they’re a good teacher). It’s up to you to use them and do the work required to accomplish your goals. You only learn a language as quickly as the work you put in permits. A significant other might provide more motivation for you to learn a language, but they certainly won’t speed up the process for you.
5. There are not shortcuts. Dating a native speaker makes it look like there is a shortcut for learning a language, but I’m going to let you in on something I learned a long time ago for both music and languages: there are no shortcuts. You get what you put into language learning. There is no “fast” and “easy” way to truly learn a language. You have to put in the work.
Love and Languages
That being said, if you are in a relationship with someone who speaks another language, it’s a great compliment to them to take the time to learn their language (plus it may allow you to communicate with their family and friends who only speak that language). But, I don’t think you should ever date someone to learn a language. It should be the other way around, you learn the language to share it with the person you love.
Another bonus for sharing languages with the person you love are to decrease the odds of miscommunication. The majority of arguments stem from misunderstanding and an inability to express one’s self in another language can lead to a lot of frustration. If you and your partner can’t find equal footing in a language, this might lead to increased and prolonged disagreements. So, if you’re in a relationship for the long-haul, learning your partner’s language can help put out a few fires that may have been caused by language and cultural barriers.
I do agree, however, with other language learning advice that suggests finding friends who speak the language (or at least a tutor). But don’t force friendships or relationships for the sake of learning a language if they aren’t working.
Have you seen this advice? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments.