Needless to say that speaking the same language as your conversation partner greatly simplifies things – the same applies to your domestic worker. Allowing time for your helper to develop her language skills is essential in order to avoid miscommunication and thus reduce any tensions that might strain the helper-employer relationship.
Surely, mastering another language also opens doors to learning from and understanding new cultures. On top of that, improving her language skills will enable her to be much more autonomous e.g. she will be able to bargain at the market. Your domestic worker improving her language skills is critical all the more so as your children interact with her on a daily basis and get a first exposure to languages with her too. As a result, they are more likely to pick up language mistakes without being corrected.
Here are a few tips to help your domestic helper improve her language skills:
Tip 1: Support her all through the learning process
There are various ways in which you can do that:
- Help her practice her language skills:
- It is critical that she gets to practise whatever she learns. Keep in mind that your domestic worker spends a lot of her time in and get limited opportunities to get exposure to the target language and practice it – two key aspects when it comes to memorizing a language.
- Start by teaching her a word per day and reviewing the vocabularies learnt over the past few days. Once she has acquired some vocabulary, you might want to take time to help her practice as often as you possibly can by discussing an article, a movie, any topic of interest e.g. ask her about what she did during the day, what your kids have been up to, what she usually does on her days off, her plans for the holidays, etc.
- Encourage her to reply in the target language and acknowledge her pace – avoid showing signs of frustration if she is not learning as fast as you would like her to.
- Keep introducing new topics to diversify her vocabulary but be careful not to introduce too many at the same time.
- Encourage her or try to set up language exchanges for her:
- Language exchanges can be a great way to immerse herself in a language. Ask her whether she is comfortable with the idea first as it can be intimidating to some beginners.
- There are many opportunities for interaction: possibly with another helper who has come to master the language – you might want to inquire in your circles – or via certain online platforms such as My Language Exchange, InterPals, and some Facebook groups which make it possible to set up offline exchanges to practice a given language at no cost.
- Correct her mistakes:
Correcting and explaining her mistakes as they come will enable her to steadily improve her language skills.
- Help her set goals:
Setting clear goals will make it possible for her (and you too) to track her progress. Ideally, set both short and long-term goals e.g. learn a given number of vocabularies by a certain date, read an entire book in the target language, place an order on a website, etc.
- Encourage her to study regularly:
The main deal-breaker when learning a new language surely is the lack of regularity in practice – encourage your helper to study on a regular basis, ideally every day. You might need to free up some time in her schedule or dedicate a slot to make it happen.
Tip 2: Give her access to the right tools
There are many online and offline tools specially designed to facilitate the immersion and the language learning process. The former is a key aspect given that your domestic helper works from home and isn’t in contact with many people outside your household. As such, taking advantage of technology and the bevvy of tools available can really make a difference.
- Vocabulary-learning apps:
- There are many apps based on pre-made flashcard deck systems to facilitate vocabulary-learning. Free apps such as AnkiApp and Memrise which give learners access to learning exercises in many languages – including English, French, Arabic, Mandarin, and Cantonese – are great ways to learn the basics of the target language and slowly acquire vocabulary on a daily basis.
- Those apps – accessible both via a laptop or a phone – are intuitive and user-friendly, and enable the learner to download numerous decks from an extensive database.
- Platforms allowing access to a variety of audio contents:
The best way to learn a language surely is hearing and speaking it in order to experience the real-world target language and understand its pronunciation.
- TuneIn is an online platform which gives access to streams and podcasts in many languages, from radios from all over the world. Starting off by listening to a particular recording repeatedly can be very effective in picking up new vocabularies and understanding the target language structure. The content is accessible freely.
- YouTube and Amara allow access to a large pool of videos on various topics for free. Users have the option to add subtitles.
- Forvo is an online free pronunciation dictionary which gives access to sound clips in many languages including English, Mandarin, and
- Platforms allowing learners to have access to comprehensive language courses:
There are many platforms that allow language learners to have access to a variety of structured lessons, with varying degrees of complexities:
- By adopting a game-like approach to language learning, Duolingo is a great tool for beginners to get introduced to a language and learn the basics. Their database includes materials to learn 27 languages, among which French and Mandarin, for free.
- The Foreign Service Institute which covers more than 40 languages is another interesting platform as it offers an extensive database of language courses and some even include audio resources. The content is accessible to users for free. Even though some courses might require some foundations, it is great when it comes to helping learners practice reading and listening at the same time.
- Give her access to appropriate reading materials:
- Allow her access to appropriate and diversified reading materials to encourage her to pick up reading in the target language. If she is a beginner, you might want to have her start with children’s books and then gradually move on to other types of reading materials such as recipes, newspapers, magazines, and books to consolidate the basics and acquire new vocabularies.
- Make sure that whatever reading material is available to your domestic worker it is dealing with a subject of interest to her, is of the right level and short to suit a beginner.
- Get her a pocket dictionary to carry at all times or encourage her to download a dictionary app to consult whenever she feels the need to.
Tip 3: Sign her up for a language course
Signing your domestic helper up for a language course with a professional language instructor can yield particularly positive results. Languages classes are key to decompose a language into its main components and learn the rationale behind it, along with the grammar and the most notable exceptions.
- Turn to a training centre:
Several training centres run language classes targeted at domestic helpers. Singapore-based employers can sign up their domestic helpers to English classes with FAST, ACMI and HOME. The latter also runs Mandarin classes.
- Sign her up for language classes with the HelperChoice Academy:
Among its wide range of classes available to domestic workers, the HelperChoice Academy runs language classes accessible via an affordable monthly subscription which allows helpers to benefit from a la carte training services. The HelperChoice Academy has designed a language curriculum to help unleash domestic helper’s language skills. It includes:
- Cantonese courses which aim at enabling domestic helpers to use Cantonese in their daily work life. Through the use of flashcards and the gradual introduction of new vocabularies, the courses focus on:
- Teaching greetings and vocabularies frequently used in family conversations.
- Daily life thematic areas such as shopping at the market, using the public transportation system, and eating out among many others.
- English courses are aimed at supporting domestic helpers throughout the language learning process to improve their communication skills and are based on the following format:
- Domestic workers are split up into groups and presented with commonly faced day-to-day scenarios.
- Each group presents how they would respond to the situation, both orally and in writing.
- The instructor then corrects and explains any grammatical and/or formulation mistakes.
- Sign her up for online language classes:
Thanks to matching platforms such as italki, it is possible to connect with native speakers who offer their language teaching skills at competitive prices. Classes are conducted via online telecommunications platforms such as Skype. The main negative aspect lies in the fact that online tutors are not necessarily professional language teachers.
Tip 4: Keep the following elements in mind:
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning a language. There are no right or wrong learning methods; only different methods and different paces.
- Every medium has its own advantage that can be a good fit for some but not for others.
- How fast your helper can pick up a new language depends on various factors such as her personality and which and how many languages she has already learned.
- Learning should be fun – so, try to motivate and engage your domestic worker and avoid putting too much pressure as it could be counterproductive.