How to Tutor Languages: Let the Language Come Naturally has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. You can download the audio and study the transcript as a lesson at LingQ.

Hi there, this is Steve Kaufmann here again.

I just want to follow up on my last video where I said that language learning is a subconscious process. If that is the case, then we have to let the language come to us. I think far too often in language learning either the teacher wants to force us to learn something or we try to force ourselves to learning something and, of course, it doesn’t happen that way and I want to use a couple recent examples.

I had my discussion this morning with one of my Romanian tutors and, of course, I look forward to these discussions because I spend so much time listening and reading that when I get a live native speaker I want to speak. I want to try to use what I’ve learned. With my two other tutors we have very pleasant discussions, but with this fellow I have to keep trying to keep him on track to do it my way. So we start speaking, I say three words and he says no, stop. (In English) No, this is not correct. You must do this, that. I say never mind, I just want to want to talk now. The system in LingQ is that you can write all my mistake phrases in a report which you’ll send to me and I will study them, but I just want to talk. Okay.

So we continue talking. One more sentence, he stops me again. It’s pronounced wrong. This is wrong. It should be that. This went like three or four times and finally I got mad. I said is it so difficult for you to understand I don’t want you to correct me? I won’t remember your corrections. All it does is make me lose interest in the conversation. I forget what I was trying to say. Actually, we had a very interesting discussion. We, eventually, ended up having a really interesting discussion about the communist regime that came into Romania after the Second World War and the events that led up to that, what happened in between the wars and the various right-wing factions in Romania and Yalta and how the West basically betrayed Eastern Europe.

We had a fascinating discussion and I know I made lots of mistakes, but I wanted to speak Romanian. This is part of my gradual exposure. He cannot force me to speak correctly and all of his corrections are not going to make me speak correctly. They’re just going to diminish my enjoyment in speaking, they’re going to make me speak less and they’re going to make me more inhibited. Why is he trying to force me to speak correctly before I am able to speak correctly? As I say, language learning is a subconscious process. I will speak incorrectly for a long, long time and, gradually, I will learn to speak more correctly because I will notice, myself, a lot of the mistakes that I make and, of course, if I get his reports I’ll see there some of the mistakes I make.

Often, we’re conscious when we’re speaking of the things that we kind of have trouble saying or that we’re not sure about is this right or wrong. I think the real advantage of speaking is that we become more aware of these areas that we want to focus in on so that the next time we read or listen to something we’ve kind of again trying to be attentive, at least I am, zooming in on these areas with the knowledge that with more and more exposure, gradually, these things become more natural to me. I’ve noticed just in the two weeks that I’ve been speaking and, of course, continuing my listening and reading, I mean I’m just able to say so much more now and I’m able to understand so much more. So I’m conscious of the progress that I am making, but it is very much a subconscious process.


How to Tutor a Language


So there’s an example of where the teacher is trying to force you to be better than you can be. You’re not going to be that good. You’re going to make mistakes and, eventually, you’ll get better.

Another person said to me how do you learn idioms in a language? I know that a lot of people are very intent on learning idioms and slang, so I thought about this and I said you know what? Actually, I pay no attention to idioms when I’m learning a language because when I start learning a language everything is new to me. The words are new. The pronunciation is new. The word order, the way they say things. Like in Romanian they have some of the strangest ways of expressing the future. I shouldn’t say strange, objectively strange, strange to me, quite unlike other romance languages.

So all of these things I have to get used to. It’s a great big jigsaw puzzle with only a few pieces there. In the case of Romanian, more pieces than I had in Russian or Czech because I bring with me all the vocabulary that I have from other romance languages. But, still, there are a lot of new pieces in this new language that I have to get used to.

So idioms, I say to myself I don’t worry about idioms because there are so many other things that I have to learn first. Idioms are there. If there’s an idiom that Google Translate doesn’t translate for me and I’m left with these three or four words in a phrase that doesn’t make any sense to me, I’ll just leave it. That’s not the only thing I don’t understand in the language. All of these things will gradually, subconsciously, start to become clear. As I said in one of my other videos, the fog will slowly lift, but you can’t force it.

Now, if you absolutely want to learn idioms or slang fine, but I don’t see any necessity to do that and I don’t think it creates a very good impression with a native speaker. It’s not expected that the non-native speaker use these idioms and slang. I think you can only use those when you are actually very advanced in the language and where you actually use it naturally. Again, these idioms and slang or whatever have been absorbed in some kind of a subconscious process through lots of reading and listening, so then you start to use it naturally. But if you try to use it almost artificially because you studied it from a list of idiomatic expressions, it actually sounds strange. It’s presumptuous because it implies a degree of familiarity with the language and the culture which, in fact, you don’t have.

Here again, I think people who are intent on learning idioms is another example of people trying to rush things. Let the language come to you. The moment will come in your studies where you will naturally start to use idioms and, much earlier than that, you’ll start to understand them. You can, of course, look at a list of idioms. I don’t, but if you’re terribly interested look at them, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t remember them. I look at grammar rules from time to time. I think it vaguely helps me notice things in the language. It seems amazing how quickly I forget the grammar rules I looked at, but I kind of think it helps me be more attentive.

So we can do that, but not with the idea of trying to learn it. Not with the idea of trying to force yourself to remember it because all of those conscious efforts, the conscious effort of the teacher to get you to say it correctly, the conscious effort to read the grammar rule or to study the list of idioms, all of those deliberate efforts to master the language, the basic building blocks, all of that stuff is largely a futile effort. Gradually, through enough exposure, through enough reading and listening, using the language, interacting with people, subconsciously, things will start to click in for you, as long as you remain motivated, determined and spend enough time with the language.

So the message here is almost like a corollary of the idea that languages are learned, basically, subconsciously and that is that we should not push things. Teachers shouldn’t push things at students. Students shouldn’t put pressure on themselves, but rather, just let the language come to you. Some things will come earlier and some things will come later.

There you have it. So sit back and enjoy the journey, the journey to fluency.



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