‘Shacking up’ is not Good Language Learning Advice

You’ve heard the advice: If you want to learn a language, hook up with, date and/or marry a native speaker. There is a kernel of truth in that advice. There is also a barrel of offensiveness.

If I said that I wanted to meet a guy so that I could use him for sex, you would either a) think I’m a modern, liberated woman or b) think I’m a heartless bitch. If I were a man and said something similar, you would invariably think I was a jerk. Now what if I said I wanted to marry someone for immigration reasons? So that I could get access to his credit card?

Is there a difference between using someone for language learning and using someone for sex or money? If you’re hooking up with someone just for the purpose of learning a language, not because you are genuinely interested in that person, I would venture that no, there is not a big difference.

That is why I find the suggestion that in order to learn a language you should date native speakers offensive. Because it implies that you should to exploit them, that native speakers are your little language toys and you are not genuinely interested in your eventual girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse as an individual. You are just interested in exploiting their language ability. That is no different from using someone for sex, marrying someone in order get a green card, for money or for any other exploitative reason.

I’d like to address the kernel of truth, though. Marrying into a culture will give you a lifetime of immersion in your spouse’s language and culture. In addition to your spouse -you’ll have in-laws and your spouse’s old friends to practice the language with, and your target language will become a very real part of your everyday life – if you want it to.

I say “if you want it to” because there are plenty of people who don’t speak their spouse’s language. Just being married to a native speaker is not enough, as I wrote about in a guest post for Fluent in 3 Months recently.

In general, I don’t like the idea of “criteria” when it comes to romantic relationships. I don’t think you should say “I’ll only date men of X nationality, religion, profession, etc.” I think someone who says, “I will only date Chinese men/women” is just as discriminatory, limiting and quite frankly, stupid as someone who refuses to date Chinese men or women.

I know there are both men and women out there who routinely juggle several girlfriends / boyfriends and have no trouble finding romantic interest(s). On the other hand, there are lots and lots of people of both sexes who find dating stressful and baffling where ever they are. And who would very much like to date somebody, but can’t seem to find the right man/woman. Telling someone in the second category to just find a native speaker boyfriend/girlfriend is incredibly unhelpful.

I have no plans to date Chinese men while I’m in China: Because I’m already married. If I weren’t married, I would be happy to date a Chinese man – or, for that matter, a man of just about any nationality. But I wouldn’t do so just to use him for language practice.

So next time someone says you should date a native speaker in order to learn a language, think about that for a second. Challenge him or her to think about how that comment objectifies native speakers. Think about what it says about that person’s relationship with the opposite (or same, for that matter) sex. Then ignore the advice, and date someone you like, regardless of his or her native language.

About the photo: I admit it was tempting to post an inappropriate photo, but I’m hoping that my site will be unblocked in China (yes, it is behind the Great Firewall, which has caused me Great Annoyance), which is unlikely to happy if I post that kind of photo. So I’ve decided to post another spectacular photo of China’s other, physical, Great Wall. So what if it’s not related to this post.