It seems that one of the most persistent pieces of advice that exist about learning English is to get a boyfriend or girlfriend that speaks the language. The belief is that because you’re going to spend a lot of time with this person you’ll be forced to learn more out of necessity. It’s true that practice is extremely important when learning English because if you don’t practice, anything you learn won’t stick with you. Having an English-speaking person in your life with whom you want to communicate with is definitely a good motivator. There are, however, some caveats to keep in mind when attempting to learn English this way.
Are there any advantages?
Getting a boyfriend or girlfriend who speaks English has some advantages that can help boost not just your language improvement but also your confidence and motivation. This works especially well if you spend a lot of time with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and even more so if you’re living together. The motivation primarily should come from wanting to have conversations that are meaningful and that bring you closer to them.
One big advantage that your English listening and comprehension skills can improve dramatically. When I first met my wife, she already had a good level of English. By being together, she was better able to understand colloquial language, slang, and jokes. Because your English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend will be trying to communicate their feelings, their life, and their interests to you, it’s a great chance to build your listening skills. Additionally, you can ask them to repeat or explain what you didn’t understand.
Listening to your boyfriend or girlfriend is only half of what you can accomplish by learning English this way. While they’re telling you about their day or about something that made them laugh or sad, you can ask questions to get them to tell you more. By doing so, you can improve your ability to have conversations in English instead of feeling like you can’t participate. The reason this can work well with a boyfriend or girlfriend is that they actually want to share their life with you so asking a lot of questions is completely normal.
Communicating often with an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend has a positive impact on your pronunciation as well. A big part of improving the way you say things is to imitate the way native speakers say them. While it’s not particularly polite to repeat things that strangers say, your boyfriend or girlfriend will typically be more understanding if you imitate some words or phrases they use that are new to you. Moreover, they can help correct your pronunciation and give you some tips on how to make your pronunciation more correct. All of these advantages are great in theory but in practice, it’s a different matter.
So you’ve managed to get yourself an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend and you’re ready to improve your English skills. You chat and discuss until you realize they aren’t correcting any of your mistakes. You try asking them if they understand you and they will probably say yes. So, does that mean your English is perfect? No. Then, why aren’t they correcting you? Simple. That’s not the reason they’re in a relationship with you. Or maybe they don’t know you want them to help you with your English. They might also not be comfortable with the idea of correcting you because they don’t want to insult you or make you feel bad. What’s important is that your boyfriend or girlfriend may be an English speaker but they’re not an English teacher. Don’t go into the relationship thinking it will be your big chance to learn English fast. Think of it as a source of continuous practice and when you have questions just ask them. Let them know that it’s okay for them to correct you if you make big mistakes. At the same time, don’t expect them to correct everything because that will just turn your communication into a series of stops for corrections.
Pitfalls to avoid
A lot of people wonder why my Chinese isn’t as good as it could be after spending 7 years in Beijing and having a Chinese wife for over 10 years. The answer is simple: I never studied or practiced enough and my wife is not a very patient person (don’t tell her I said that!). She has tried helping me improve my pronunciation in the past but I was never able to make certain sounds perfectly so she would get frustrated with me. So, we’ve given up and that’s fine. Teaching people takes patience and empathy because learning English and any other language is a difficult thing. If you have an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend, there’s a chance that they may not be patient enough to help you. It’s important to recognize this as soon as possible and lower your expectations or just don’t push them to help you.
Another point that you should keep in mind is that learning English requires an understanding of the rules of its grammar and how vocabulary works. Your English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend probably doesn’t know these rules; they just speak the language and it’s the same with you and your own mother tongue. Most of the time when I ask my wife to explain to me a word or a sentence pattern in Chinese, her answer goes like this “I don’t know. It’s just the way we talk.” If your boyfriend or girlfriend is giving you the same answer, try to not get confused or frustrated. Instead, accept that they are using the language correctly and that is enough to help you improve. Taking the time to research for yourself is also an option and it will help with your English learning.
In the end, is the old adage of getting an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend to learn English true? With some expectation management and keeping things simple and lighthearted, yes it probably is. Despite my wife’s impatience, I feel I have learned a lot of Chinese simply by having her in my life. Just don’t enter a relationship with the only reason being to improve your language skills. In fact, that should just be an extra element. Don’t forget your partner is a person with feelings and not a tool for learning English.
There you have it! I hope this has been useful. If so, share this article with someone who wants to learn English, follow us on Instagram and try making some examples in the comments below!
See you in the next lesson!