Guest bloggers Kimberly Nertney and Pamela Talbot of Language Launchers share some expert advice on how to best communicate with your au pair when English is not her first language:
English is a complicated language full of exceptions to every rule. To add to those complications, native speakers talk at fast speeds, drop out sounds or at times even whole words, and use many expressions that cannot be directly translated into another language. Needless to say if your au pair is fresh “off the boat” and a relatively new English speaker there will likely be some linguistic misunderstandings until she acclimates. Fortunately, in most cases, this comes quickly given some conversational practice.
In the beginning of your time with a new au pair, there are some steps you can take to help with the orientation to a new language. Interestingly, there is some overlap with the steps you should be using with your child as he/she learns to speak his/her first language.
Pointers for speaking with your new “ESL” (English as a Second Language) au pair:
- Speak at a slightly slower rate but do not over emphasize sounds or words.
- Speak at a normal speaking volume.
- Be aware that background noise makes it harder for a new listener or second language learner to process verbal information.
- Listen to yourself as you give important instructions to make sure the information is completely and clearly stated and not implied. This may involve restating information from earlier in the conversation.
- Don’t forget a new language user is working hard to hear and decipher the actual words and may actually have less brainpower to focus on the meaning of what you are saying. Speaking slower and pausing more often than normal can help a lot!
- If your au pair is having a difficult time understanding you, use more visual clues to help her. For example, show her the pan to use and go through the motions of what you are explaining. If you take the time to slow down in the beginning you will reap the benefits of more efficient communication down the road.
- Some au pairs may be less likely to ask what a word means or admit they don’t understand. It’s very helpful to actually “invite” an au pair to request clarification and ask what new words mean from the beginning. Keeping a white board or notebook handy to show her the spelling of a new word or jot down an expression can be an invaluable tool to prevent the same misunderstandings from repeating.
- When you catch yourself using an expression or idiom try to over-explain it so the meaning is clear. In some instances an au pair might think she understood but in actuality did not. In this case, she wouldn’t know there was a need to ask for clarification. Be aware that many “expressions” we use are not actual idioms such as “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Sometimes our common expressions are not at all obvious.
Helping an au pair improve their fluency and comprehension can be fun and educational for both au pair and host families.
Examples of everyday expressions you may take for granted:
- little by little
- so far so good
- that’s about it
- get the hang of it
- keep an eye on it
- as long as you
- get carried away
- to go to a lot of trouble
- might as well
- too good to be true
- give him a hand
- before long
- by the time
- just in time
- make a fuss
- out of line
- call it a day
- see to it
- time out
- let it go
- out of the blue
Find more resources for host families and au pairs on our website and check in with us for more from Language Launchers.