It might seem obvious why a conversation partner or a friend that speaks the language your learning could be helpful. But the reasons why it is might not be very obvious. You may have forgotten about the human aspect of language. As a person studying another culture, it sometimes can be detrimental to only focus on the social science aspect of language – but it depends on your goals. Here are some reasons that making friends that speak the language your learning is very important.
1. Make Mistakes, Without Embarrassment
Something that is very scary for an inexperienced LLer is speaking with a stranger. Maybe just the thought of this makes you sweat. This is a powerful force at play. You won’t die. You won’t be harmed. There’s so little risk involved, so why is it so scary? It’s the fear of embarrassment and exclusion. If you aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and instead expect to make them, you will feel less embarrassed, you will learn faster, and you will make more friends. Easy to understand but hard to do at first. But if you make an attempt to try, you will be pleasantly surprised.
2. Humans Copy Each Other – A Lot
Whether you like it or not, we copy each other. This fact used to bother me. I wanted to be an individual, not attached to stereotypes. From our infancy, we emulate our parents and those around us as we learn about our world. This is why even at a modest day care, you might have a four year old kid run around screaming things like, “this is bullsh!t!” when they do not yet when and where this is appropriate. (Whether it’s appropriate at all is also learned from their parents.) Now if your Japanese friend is saying, “痛い!” (itai) when they stub their toe, you know what to say when you stub yours.
Let me use an example from Japanese. This sentence ender is so common that even people who don’t speak Japanese may have heard it through movies or anime. The particle is ね (ne). Unless you’re familiar with the various meanings and implications it has in Japanese and the ways that the Japanese interact with each other, it can seem overused and even annoying. A dictionary definition from Jisho.org gives a little more insight to where it’s appropriate:
- indicates emphasis, agreement, request for confirmation, etc.; is it so (at sentence ender)
- hey; come on; listen
As a native English speaker, a similar translation might be “right?”. But the problem is if you literally translate ね to “right?”, then everyday conversation would drive you mad. Why is it, you may ask, that everyone needs confirmation to something that they’ve already said? It’s hard to explain. But harmony with others is a tendency in Japanese society. In Japanese, it sounds polite and friendly to use ね (ne) when you speak. There are other nuances of this particle that are hard to explain without context. Through conversation and making friends, these things seem more natural than they used to.
4. Group Experiences
Friends invite other friends to do things together. You will be invited out to dinner, out to a bar, karaoke, badminton, horse racing, and all of the strange things that they are into. Things that you would never in your wildest dreams do alone, you will find yourself doing with friends. Some of the best memories of my life I’ve experience abroad with friends – including dancing with a random group of Japanese high schoolers, and riding in my Norwegian friend’s boat to their family’s little private island.
Again, these may or maybe not have been obvious to you. But they are so important to LL. Why are you learning a language anyway?