Many of my language students ask me about the quickest way to learn English, and I occasionally joke by saying, Get yourself a native speaker girl or boyfriend and practise some pillow talk! Not the best of advice for all concerned (even before COVID-19), but have you noticed how people who are in a relationship with someone who is native in the language they’re trying to acquire, make rapid progress? While you are struggling to conjugate verbs and remember adjective endings, the person in the class with the love interest makes noticeable progress from week to week? Of course, this is not true for everyone but, there are many reasons why falling in love can be a language aid.

After all, love is one of the main reasons for emigration and often coupled with it is learning a new language. This all sounds exotic and rather exciting, doesn’t it? But learning language for love is rather a challenge too. A lot of misunderstandings can arise and frustration in lack of empathy. Also, it’s easy to be very critical of our loved ones, and people hold back their frustration less, so sometimes it can be very hurtful if someone is correcting you constantly. According to an article by the BBC, bilingual people often feel that they have different feelings in different languages and sometimes there is always a part of your lover that you don’t know.

However, despite the challenges thousands of couples have met, fallen in love, and created mutual understanding despite cultural and linguistic barriers. The past year has seen a rise in virtual dating, which has opened up the borders for dating, and people are falling in love over Zoom. In many ways, the Coronavirus has slowed the dating process down and traditional courtship is back on the cards. In essence, the courtship phase involves talking a lot, getting to know people more intimately before getting physical. So, despite global mobility being on hold temporarily, global connections are thriving more than ever. Holding deep and meaningful conversations in a foreign language is every language learner’s ultimate goal. By having a “lover” with another language, you get to explore all the elements you need to master a language.

Further reading

Live Love Learn: how online dating and edtech platforms aren’t so different

5 Reasons Why Conversation Practice Is Key to Learning a Language

Let’s look at why it is such a language learning booster.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Firstly, if we look at learning a second language, classes often start with comprehension first rather than verbal narrative. Have you noticed that the first thing that beginners ask for is a book? When learning a language with a lover, this is not going to be the case – as when we acquire our first language, we start speaking before grammar and written skills. It means learners are thrown into the deep end; it’s a bit like a total immersion course (with added benefits!). Learners will pick up everyday language skills, social skills, small talk, and everyday vocabulary at an extremely fast pace. Through repetition and practice, the command of the language will become second nature quite quickly.

Many language learners feel insecure when they arrive in their destination country as they struggle to understand native speakers in their home environment. Traditional language teaching is heavily based on students answering teachers’ questions and, this is not indicative of how adults use a foreign language in the real world. A lover in this context means you can skip to this natural phase quickly, as you are learning to use language in real-life scenarios. A good balance of listening and speaking is essential for effective language learning.  A great advantage of having a native speaker on call 24/7 is that you’ll pick up the authentic lingo and not textbook language. This means you will understand native speakers a lot quicker, which is usually the most challenging and last step in language learning. You will master the real, living language instead of unnatural and old-fashioned phrases such as “It’s raining cats and dogs” in English – a euphemism that has worked itself into many English language textbooks but is seldom used in everyday English!

Have a common goal

Let’s not forget that love and romance is a huge goal and motivator. In cross-cultural teams, if there are any communication issues or miscommunication, establishing common goals and aligning them in the team often overcomes dispute. It’s much the same with most things in life and young lovers have the love story as the common goal, so this means that they are spurred on by a desire to establish a deep connection from the outset!  It’s a fact that when curiosity is at hand, the learning curve soars. Active listening is a huge factor that we shouldn’t overlook as it usually requires engagement as a learner and is very tiring. When a love interest is involved, you should just be hanging off every word! Learning to read between the lines and being interested in people is an integral part of language practice – this is obviously a conclusion in the case of a romantic liaison.

Communication goes both ways

Understanding is a two-way street.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Conversation practice is very often seen as the key to learning a language, the so-called “link” between grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary, increasing connections among these linguistic elements as the speaker forms a sentence. Very often it’s the reality of language that stops learners in their tracks. Formal expressions are easier to use than everyday language that is used in professional and social situations in the real world. If you are in a relationship with someone, there will be many things to discuss and debate, there will always be something to talk about. It allows you to practice through conversation,  explore different registers and nuances of the language including slang, humour, expressing anger, etc.

Writing skills

Remember the love letter splashed with perfume and the waxed seal on the envelope? It may be dead in this form but much of today’s communication occurs via text, WhatsApp or Email. This is great for language learning as it forces the learner to think about grammar and accuracy in writing. In the dating stages, parties are out to impress.  So, writing text messages is helpful to consolidate verbal language skills. In all relationships – monocultural or bicultural – texting is an essential and real part of communication in 2021. It is an authentic part of written communication which has more benefit than using case studies or role-plays in a classroom environment.

Feedback

Feedback is vital when learning a language and having someone to do that regularly is a fringe benefit. Many of my clients complain that no one has ever corrected them and it’s tiresome for them to eliminate their errors as they are deeply fossilised. Maybe you can agree with your partner on how much they correct your mistakes. Obviously, it can be stressful if someone is correcting you all the time. It’s also important to relax and let go! Don’t worry about correctness, try to communicate and let it flow. You will make more errors, but just like learning to ride a bicycle, you need to keep trying to get the practice you need to improve. Nevertheless, correction is an essential part of learning a language – for vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, so make use of having this opportunity.

Conclusion

As you become more fluent and confident in the language, many couples find that they can express themselves better in that combination of languages than they could in just one. That shared language is a mighty bonding experience.

Find out what works best for the both of you, and if it’s not working out, don’t force it. Your partner might be the love of your life, but they might not know how to explain grammar and not enjoy being your language trainer.

Eventually, communication will get easier, and as in all communication, there is always the non-verbal aspect to fall back upon As Mae West once said, “I speak two languages – body and English.”

Should the relationship blossom and lead to offspring, then the incentive is there to make sure that the children are brought up bilingually and bi-culturally. This is a truly wonderful experience, and these days there is great awareness of the bilingual advantage in the global workplace. If your love affair doesn’t work out for whatever reason, you can think you’ve saved yourself huge sums of money and time in language tuition. As a result, you are now able to speak a new language for the rest of your life.

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“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

Chinese proverb