I have a brazilian friend who lives in Japan with his wife from Germany.
His native language is Portuguese and his wife speaks German, and they live in Japan where people speak Japanese. They a true multilingual couple. Guess how many languages they speak?
Both of them speak English, Japanese, German and Portuguese!
He met his wife in Germany when he was studying there on a study abroad program. And that’s when he learned to speak German. His wife has never lived in Brazil but speaks fluent Portuguese.
So he told me their secret.
When they first started going out, she, being a very diligent student, started taking Portuguese lessons. Soon after they got married and came to live in Japan. The relocation put them in a new situation where they couldn’t find opportunity to use German nor Portuguese. Their English didn’t go rusty because they used it at work.
So, guess what they decided to do?
They decided to speak Portuguese and German at home, and to give each other equal opportunity of practice, they started to alternate between the languages every week. For example, if they speak German this week, next week they’ll switch to Portuguese.
When you have two or more common languages, you most likely opt to speak in the stronger language. Even when you make up your mind to speak a weaker language with the intention to get better, soon you catch yourself going back to your stronger language. It is normal because it is a bit awkward to speak a language which either one or both of you are weak at when both of you can communicate in another language well.
I’ve actually had a sour experience with this myself. My partner at that time wanted to improve his Japanese. But because my English was stronger than his Japanese, we ended up talking mainly in English and we found it extremely difficult to get out of this habit.
Recently, I tried this new ‘method’ and I’m excited to tell you that I found it much more feasible!
In my opinion, there are two keys to the success of the method:
- Setting a time frame. (i.e. 1 week)
- Making it a rule.
When you set a time frame (1 week), you can be patient and endure some communication impediments knowing that it is going to end in a couple of days. 1 week is good because it is not too short, like 1 day, where switching of the languages happens too frequently for you to really adjust and learn, and not too long where you may feel frustrated and give up because you get no break. Plus, when you make this a rule, you won’t feel shy about yourself sounding like a baby or about reminding each other to stick to the rule. Because ‘rules are rules.’
Now, you might be thinking that while this all sounds great, you are not dating a foreigner.
Don’t worry. For this to work, you don’t need to date a foreigner. Find somebody in your family or a group of friends or even a colleague from work who wants to improve their speaking skill. And I guarantee you’ll have as much fun.
When you speak in a different language, it is like getting to know the person all over again. Because the person you think you know so well can sound completely different when speaking in another language.
Start a “English Only Week” tomorrow and begin practicing English (or your desired language) on a daily basis. At the beginning, it is okay to use just words if you can’t manage phrases. And don’t forget to take a week off after the first week:))[日本語文へ]