What is the language of love? That is a question I have heard asked countless times and answered in many ways.  To my mind, the language of love is always unique to the speaker and the listener. Let me explain what I mean and how you can use it to improve your language skills.

Those three little words

When we invoke the word “love” in English is means many things. Saying “I love you” is something we say to partners, friends and family. People learn translations of this expression in other languages, “Ich liebe dich”, “te quiero” and “je t’aime”. But in Germany, parents would not usually say “Ich liebe dich” to their child. Instead they have a different expression for platonic love, “Ich habe dich lieb” (I have love for you).  The same goes in Spanish, to a child you would usually say, “te amo”.

On that basis I am going to discuss language and love.  It is true that many a language learner has become fluent in a romantic relationship, myself included.  Romantic or not, every relationship is different and gives you its own unique idiolect.

Love your way to speaking fluency

Why do many people in relationships learn their partner’s language so well?

  1. Necessity – A common language for communication
  2. Love – Understanding your partner
  3. Practice – Daily conversation

These three elements are key to gaining fluency in a language quickly.  Motivation from love and necessity are vitally important to engage the learner and spur him/her on to learn more and more.  The practice is crucial in getting exposure to situations in which language patterns are heard over and over again.  Any language course worth its salt agrees that one needs continuous exposure to the language to progress.  A little bit, or even a lot of study rarely will not make you fluent.  It’s a labour of love.

Making the most of it

Often it is the bigger, more widely spoken language that is spoken in relationships. But you can always take the opportunities presented to learn your partner’s language too. The possible problems:

  • You feel learning the language will put a strain on the relationship
  • It’s easier to just speak the default family/group language
  • Lack of time to study

It is true that learning a language can be frustrating in the beginning with learning the pronunciation and then the grammar. You need to keep the tone light. Perhaps even do self study or study with someone else too, if possible.

Obviously as a beginner in a language you can feel frustrated about getting a message across that is important to you.  Make use of other family members/friends, trips to the country where the language is spoken and, if the children speak it, try to get them involved in your learning too.

Start off small, by ordering things, making small talk (weather, family and hobbies etc) listening for patterns and familiar words.  Don’t be afraid to ask about things you notice, signs, words on the radio/TV you can pick out or things that sounds like other languages you know.  There is no rush to learn everything all at once.  It takes time for the language to really sink in.

Wishing for the improbable

The biggest complaints I hear from language learners is the speed at which they learn and how much free time they have to study.  Courses promoting quick fixes and fluency in very short periods often only serve to discourage the learner when the miracle cure for learning does not work.

A taste of reality

It took you years to learn your own language.  You had to listen to the same words over and over to understand and learn them.  You had to practice even more to learn to pronounce them well too.  Learn the new language in chunks, so that you break it down into realistic goals.  A mountain climber does not run straight to Everest after all!  Focus of topics and situations to reach short term targets for your learning.  You can join up the topics later to make more fluent conversation with people.

World language barrier

You may speak a widely spoken world language, like me.  This can also cause barriers in learning a new language or practicing it with your friends or family.  People will try to speak your language to practice it and they will think they are helping you in the process. Avoid being rude if you feel frustrated by this.  Just use a nice polite phrase, like:

“Thank you for speaking English (insert your language here) to try to make it easier for me.  I appreciate it.  But I really like your language and I want to improve my knowledge of it.  Could we continue to speak in your language and you can help me to practice speaking it?”

I find that this simple way of expressing my desire to learn, and appreciation for that person trying to help, works wonders.

Getting started and staying motivated

We have all started something and then given up hours, days, weeks or months later.  Language schools witness this happening all the time.  The trick is not let the language become an insurmountable task.  Keep in mind that it takes time to learn it and that you don’t have to learn it all at once. It’s not a 100m race.  It’s more like a marathon.

Burnout in language learning is the killer.  If you need a break or if you don’t find you can continue, then revise what you have done until you feel able to move on t new material.  The key is to keep the new language fresh in your brain.  If you can do this and chip away at the language, you will succeed in speaking fluently.