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“Learning French was a waste of time.” My wife was clearly frustrated to have spent her high school and college foreign language credits on learning French. She wished she’d learned Spanish so she could communicate with my family in Mexico.
And this really bothered me. I didn’t want her to feel excluded or like a failure when we visited my family for the first time.
As a native Spanish speaker, I know some of the challenges of becoming bilingual.
Many of the same feelings of shame, discomfort, and lack of self-esteem that we experience as kids and teenagers can deter some adults from learning a new language.
With her drive and determination, I began helping my wife learn basic Spanish. The fact that I have a teaching certification in the state of Texas was also helpful.
We have been happily married for close to 4 years. She can understand conversational Spanish and speak the language. She even thanks her French courses now for her improvement.
Here’s how I was able to teach my significant other Spanish. These strategies will also help you do the same for your partner.
Strategy 1: Speak to Your Significant Other in Their Target Language At Home
Whatever language you are trying to teach your significant other, do it at home.
This can become a fun game as well. At home, you are comfortable. And away from other people, who can oftentimes make a new learner feel shy.
It is also easy for your partner to quickly relate to actions and items they are already familiar with even if it’s in a new language.
You can refer to kitchen items when you are cooking together, or initiate your daily walks by speaking in Spanish. These are all things you already do with them, so learning the phrases in another language will make the language more and more familiar.
Strategy 2: Teach Them a Useful Phrase Once a Day
Every day, make it a point to teach your significant other a useful phrase.
Learning everyday tasks is fun, but make sure you also prepare them with phrases that will come in handy when visiting a new country.
Here are a few useful phrases I taught my wife:
- Estoy esperando el taxi – “I am waiting for the taxi”
- Necesito ir al baño – “I need to use the bathroom”
- ¿Cómo se dice…? – “How do you say…?”
- ¿Que hora es? – “What time is it?”
- Me llamo _ – “My name is _”
Useful phrases are phrases that can potentially get your significant other help if they find themselves without your assistance, for any reason.
Picture them trying to get around the city without you being there to translate or help. This may not ever happen, but it’s good to prepare them to interact with the locals and feel more comfortable in case of emergencies.
Strategy 3: Practice Immersion Learning
We all recognize the benefits of learning by immersion. The more you are around a language and hear it, the quicker you’ll learn.
However, not everyone is comfortable being around large groups of people trying to learn a new language together.
My wife is an introvert, and she does not like the unfamiliar (she is a data-driven person and a planner, unlike me).
If you have similar qualities, too much immersion learning can deter you from enjoying and embracing your new language experience.
I began encouraging my wife to speak Spanish with a few members of my family. People that she knows, is familiar with, and feels comfortable around.
For her, three people speaking Spanish to each other was the limit of her comfort level. Anything more than three people (this number may vary for your significant other) can make your partner feel excluded and uncomfortable.
Extra tip: Do not start immersion learning with strangers.
This is especially true if your partner is an introvert. Starting your language learning journey with strangers is not for everyone. Get your partner comfortable with small groups of family first, then consider larger groups.
Strategy 4: Download Language Apps
Apps are a good way to make the most use of your downtime to learn a new language, and it can be fun to try out different apps with your partner.
Apps like Duolingo are a fun way to pass time while also learning a new language. The app makes language learning fun and organized.
If your partner is ready and comfortable enough, using a language exchange app can mirror immersion learning with people from all around the world, in a more personal way.
This is especially helpful if your significant other is also trying to learn how to read and write in another language by writing messages to a pen pal.
Strategy 5: Watch Foreign Language TV and Listen to Music Together
It’s easy to help your partner learn by watching TV, reading, or listening to music in another language. But it is best to pick one medium you most enjoy and use it to learn.
My wife, for example, didn’t really want to sit through a whole series of Spanish shows to try to learn the language. Watching a TV show can be hard to understand for beginners due to the lack of background knowledge and speed.
For my wife, learning Spanish through music was easier and more enjoyable.
It’s no surprise. Music has repetition and rhythm, which makes it easier for individuals to learn. We all remember the Schoolhouse Rock songs in history class right?
You can implement the same tactics when teaching your significant other a new language. In less time than you know, they will be singing along. This is also a great opportunity to explain the meaning of the songs and whistle your way into mastering a new language.
Strategy 6: Read to Your Significant Other in the New Language
I hope you’re catching up. Many of these strategies will not only teach your partner a new language but also accrue brownie points galore with them.
My wife bought a Spanish/English novel of love poems by Pablo Neruda. That’s right! She asked me to romance her in two languages.
Needless to say, we both benefited greatly (wink, wink). I was happy to comply… for many reasons (cough, cough), but mainly because it also helped me keep my Spanish sharp.
Now that I’m living in the States and working from home, the most Spanish I get is when I call my family in Mexico.
We keep the Pablo Neruda poems by the bedside. Before going to sleep I make sure to read one or two poems. We were doing this without even knowing that sleep helps sharpen your memory. The benefits just keep becoming more and more obvious!
Extra tip: Let your partner take ownership of their learning.
It is important to teach your significant other at their pace and to their comfort level. Much like the book of poems my wife got us, she took the initiative and ownership of her learning.
Strategy 7: Take Language Classes Or Courses
After learning the basics of a language, moving to the next level will become easier. If you are a busy professional like my wife, online courses can be a more affordable and fitting option than a traditional class.
Before I helped her get to grips with the basics, my wife felt anxious and shy about learning Spanish. But now that she has a basic understanding of the language, she is willing to take more risks and ownership of her learning.
Strategy 8: Give Lots Of Praise!
It can be discouraging to learn a new language without help.
Encourage your significant other every time they remember a phrase or a word. Though I have to admit that during the beginning of our learning journey, I would innocently laugh at some of the words or phrases my wife would say.
Even though I didn’t mean it maliciously, she took it as negative feedback. When teaching your significant other a new language, do not dismiss or correct them in a strong way.
Take time to explain why a phrase or a word has different meanings and how to best use them.
In the case of my wife, she thrives and enjoys accomplishing tasks to the best of her ability. Therefore, knowing your partner’s learning strengths can be extremely useful when teaching them a new language.
Strategy 9: Know Why You’re Learning — And Focus On That
Do not force the learning process and ensure there is an end goal in mind. For my wife, this was the ability to communicate with my family in Spanish.
Therefore, you must also establish clear goals for the language the same way you would to grow and strengthen your relationship.
Conclusion: Learning Together Is Good for Your Relationship
Learning together as a couple is a wonderful experience. When you teach your significant other a new language, you will also improve your communication skills.
And I don’t mean that as in communicating in another language.
I mean as a way to have a healthier relationship. And in our case, a healthier marriage. Teaching your significant other a new language is just another way to achieve closeness. By doing so, you are granting them entrance into a deeper part of you and your culture.
For our marriage, we saw Spanish not only as a practical way to communicate with each other and family, but as a way to exercise and achieve our relationship goals.
I hope that teaching your partner a new language is as rewarding for you, too.