A Conflict of Interests: What To Do When People Don’t Listen

I recently came across a post on a language learning forum about when people learning each other’s languages meet. Specifically, when both want to speak each other’s language, and one (or both) refuses to comply with the other. This is likely a situation that every language learner will encounter sooner or later. I had this problem once with a middle school kid learning English in India. I was volunteering at a local school near my grandparents’ house, and I was instructed to use Kannada most of the time. But this kid was beginning to sass me, and had the temerity to accuse me of not being able to speak Kannada at all. While I was trying to exercise my Kannada more than I was used to, this kid was trying to use English way more advanced than the current assignments in class.

It is situations such as this, where there is a conflict of interests. As I have said before in my post, Practicing a Foreign Language By Yourself, language is a social experience. It is necessary that you recognize that there is more than one person involved, and that person leads their own life, which means they have their own goals and needs. An issue with some language learners is that they completely disregard the person they’re talking to, because they assume that the person is totally willing to oblige and help you practice. Remember, they’re people, too. And people are not all-knowing. You need to establish with the other person that you are a learner, and if they’re learning your language, you should come to a mutual understanding. Take turns speaking each other’s languages, and help each other out. Granted, my situation was quite different, but it serves its purpose here.

Remember, if the person you’re talking to is what I described earlier: assuming you’ll oblige, and they aren’t listening to you, you have little choice: oblige and speak to them in their target language. However, once there, you should inform them that you want to practice their language as well, and then they may understand. But again: people are stubborn sometimes, and may not listen anyway, at which point you kind of have to give up on practicing your target language with that person. Help them out, even if you’re not getting the practice you wanted.

Hope this helps with your encounters with speakers of other languages! Please share this on Facebook and Tumblr, or leave your thoughts in the comments!

Published by


I'm a student studying at NYU, hoping to pursue a career in diplomatic services, and I'm obsessed with learning and teaching foreign languages. I like to practice Taekwondo, enjoy Square Enix video games, and engage in Asian-American social activism and international political activism.