How to teach your mother tongue to your spouse (part 3 of 3)

logo blog post about teaching one‘s mother tongue

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Other tools to facilitate understanding and memorizing

Speaking as often as possible, having the right attitude and modifying your sentences to make them easy to understand and remember is the most important. However here are a couple of additional ideas to improve even more the learning process:

  • Remember to move, to use body language: mime, show, move around if needed. It’s quite tiring but will make your conversations livelier. And besides your spouse definitely won’t forget a mime session!
  • Talk about the same topic for a while: repeating the same words again and again will help your partner remember them.
  • Encourage the student to talk with other people than you once s/he knows the basics. S/he will get used to other accents, speech rhythm and expressions (and the end goal is of course to be able to talk with everyone, not just you!). However don’t expect miracles as you’ll very often need to stay close by in order to lead the student’s thinking process or transform a person’s sentence to make it easier to understand. Indeed, not everyone is used to speaking with foreigners and they sometimes speak too fast, don’t repeat, or their vocabulary is simply too different from yours.
    Experience has taught me that the day you are able to have real discussions with your spouse in your mother tongue, it is no guarantee that s/he will be able to speak with other people. I have in mind my partner with whom I can now speak French almost all the time, but who still struggles to understand my grand-parents!
  • Don’t leave grammar rules, conjugations and the like totally aside; instead use them as a tool to perfect existing knowledge. The learning process is not based on them, true, but the day your spouse no longer needs to think to be able to formulate certain sentences and yet still makes a few mistakes, don’t hesitate to explain the rule to correct them. The student, who no longer needs so much focus and energy to build his/her sentence, will have the necessary attention to understand and remember the rule.
    I’m thinking here about my spouse repeating “je aller” (“I to go”) instead of “je vais” (“I go”). In the beginning the most important was that she knew the verb “aller” (“to go”) so we could understand what she meant. However after a while, when she managed to express herself quite fluently, I detailed the conjugation of the verb. Since she no longer had 15 things to remember simultaneously, she remembered the rule.


These tips should be seen as a whole leading to a particular way of speaking and behaving which facilitates the learning process. There are of course differences depending on the language combination (for example finding cognates between Chinese and English may prove difficult!) and you must then adapt your method, perhaps by finding new techniques. Yet the basics are the same:

  • Speak as often as possible
  • Be patient and disciplined
  • Use a language that is grammatically correct but simple and easy to remember, and based on what the student already knows, adding new elements little by little
  • Repeat often
  • Focus on what is understandable or not instead of what is correct or not
  • Don’t take the easy road by translating everything that isn’t understood. Try instead to guide the student’s thinking process toward the answer

In my opinion this way of doing makes the learning process much more enjoyable than traditional methods on top of avoiding the usual traps: bad accent, one doesn’t understand the language once spoken at normal speed, vocabulary that isn’t adapted… However you need time and discipline, and in an era where we often want everything right away we must learn patience.
Yet it is definitely worthwhile, and you’ll see it the day you can have real conversations with your spouse in your/their mother tongue, or the day s/he can communicate with your family without you nearby to translate everything (or you can communicate with his/her family).

And what about you, dear reader? If you’re learning your spouse’s mother tongue or teaching yours, what’s your method? Do you agree with the ideas listed here?
And if you don’t feel the need to learn your partner’s language or to teach yours, why? Did this series of blog posts change your mind?

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  • Elise

    Super article !
    Exactement ce que je cherchais.
    Mon copain est Japonais, et on communique 100% en japonais. Il a des bases d’anglais (puisqu’il l’a étudié à l’école) mais c’est très limité.
    J’aimerais lui apprendre un minimum de français pour qu’il puisse communiquer avec ma famille. En partant de zero, cela semble insurmontable cependant.
    Au bout de combien de temps pouviez-vous avoir des conversations simples en français avec votre partenaire ?
    Votre article m’a motivé !

    • Bonjour Élise et merci pour ce commentaire ! (qui était perdu au milieu des 110 spam… T_T Heureusement que, pris d’une inspiration, je suis allé regarder de plus près !)
      Honnêtement je ne me souviens plus très bien du moment où on a pu plus ou moins discuter, toutefois je me rappelle avoir débuté en janvier de manière très (trop ?) intensive, et quand mes parents sont venus en juin ma compagne pouvait discuter avec eux. Sur des sujets simples bien sûr, et ma mère a un don pour parler lentement et s’adapter aux étrangers tandis que mon père parle anglais et pouvait donc traduire les mots difficiles. Mais c’était tout de même une belle victoire !
      Le plus important est de commencer et de persévérer. Il est très facile de remettre à plus tard ou d’utiliser la langue commune “juste pour cette fois parce que sinon il faut 3 fois plus de temps pour se comprendre”. Mais résultat dans 5 ans rien n’a changé. Autant s’y mettre le plus vite possible et passer le cap galère tôt pour ensuite se faire plaisir (car ce cap ne va certainement pas disparaitre avec le temps !).

      Quoi qu’il en soit bon courage et n’hésite pas à revenir faire part de ton expérience si tu appliques les quelques conseils de cet article !

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