How To Learn A Language With Your Quarantine Partner

Just one more strategy for your ‘try not to kill each other’ toolkit.
woman looking at her quarantine partner holding a daschund

For a lot of people who are currently self-isolating at home, cabin fever is extremely real right now. In the midst of it all, people are finding very different ways to cope. Some are prioritizing rest and self-care by gently lowering their expectations of how much they should be “accomplishing” at a time like this. Others are finding comfort in staying busy and trying to be productive. And if you’re cooped up with a quarantine partner, new relationship challenges may be arising thanks to all that extra time that you’re stuck together — and perhaps negotiating your very different coping methods.

If you’re one of the people who’s thinking about using this time to learn a new language, you’re not alone. But also, you don’t have to do it alone, and there are benefits to having a study buddy by your side, like having the ability to practice your conversational skills, or having an accountability partner, or just having someone there to hold your flashcards up.

Whether your quarantine partner is equally excited about learning French or they’re reluctant to let anything distract them from their Animal Crossing universe, here are some tips for engaging them in your studies that are tailor-made for these unique and trying times.

Tips For Learning With Your Quarantine Partner

Negotiate The Terms

First thing’s first. How on board are they, really, and what can you do to convince them if they’re not as excited about conjugation tables as you are?

If your other language-learning half is as self-motivated as you are, you probably won’t have to resort to any bribes. But you will have to agree to some sort of schedule (to the extent that you want to coordinate), set aside time to practice together, and decide whether you want to learn the same material at the same pace. Determining these things ahead of time will save you some frustration down the road when one of you pulls ahead and you can’t have communicate  the way you want to.

Bribery is always an option if your quarantine partner needs extra convincing. Offer to cook them nice dinners, pay for takeout from their favorite restaurant, give them a massage or bake a loaf of sourdough just for them. You can make study sessions more appealing by practicing over drinks. Or, you can make a proper compromise and agree to participate in one of their favorite hobbies that you think is kind of boring. The best bribe of all, though? You can tempt them with the prospect of a vacation in a country where the language is spoken. It may be too soon to know when you’ll be able to go, but it’s a pretty good motivational reward to dangle over both of your heads.

Hold Each Other Accountable

Everyone will have a different system for accountability, but because you’re both stuck at home, that means fewer excuses — and more opportunities for creativity.

You can create your own version of a “swear jar” to keep in your home. The deal? Maybe you both have to complete one lesson or review one list of vocabulary each day. Every time one of you falls behind, you have to put money in the jar or do the dishes that night. If that’s not enough of a deterrent, maybe the person who falls behind has to eat a disgusting concoction of the other person’s creation and have their reaction posted on TikTok. The sky’s the limit.

Accountability isn’t just about making sure you do the work, though. It’s also about putting your minds together and benefitting from the synergy of working through new material together. If one of you is confused by a concept, it’ll benefit both of you if the other person explains their understanding of it, or if you both work on untangling that knot together.

Don’t underestimate the importance of providing moral support to each other, either. It’s not always easy to stick with a new skill you haven’t fully mastered yet, especially once you hit the inevitable learning plateau.

Talk It Out

One of the best things about roping your quarantine partner into language learning? You won’t have to talk to yourself to practice your speaking skills.
And the way you do this will largely depend on their own mastery of the language.

If you happen to be shacked up with a native speaker, that’s super lucky for you and perhaps slightly less interesting for them. You’ll have access to someone who can teach you slang and correct you on your pronunciation in real time, but you’ll also have to consider that being your personal dictionary probably isn’t their idea of fun. Have a conversation ahead of time so you can establish boundaries around this, as well as determine a quid pro quo you’ll both be happy with. Maybe they would prefer to be off-duty in the evening hours, and maybe you’ll return the favor by teaching them a different skill you happen to be good at.

If you’re self-isolating with someone who’s on your level (that is, someone who’s not fluent but is motivated to learn), you won’t have to worry quite as much about wearing out your welcome, but you will probably have to create an intentional habit around your studies. If you’re not studying the same material in tandem, you might run into issues when one of you takes that new vocabulary you just learned for a spin.

Even if you’re both maintaining your own study schedules, try to sync up on your lesson content by scheduling regular practice sessions together. If you only agree to speak the language together when you both feel like it, you might not keep it up for very long before lapsing back into English. But if you dedicate a 30-minute block each day to strictly speaking Italian or German, you’ll push yourself out of your comfort zone and make steady progress without exhausting yourself in the process. It’s kind of like doing physical exercise: much better to pack your discomfort into a single half hour than try to spread it out through the whole day.

What if your quarantine partner is not actually interested in studying the language, but they’ve agreed to be supportive to whatever extent they can? At the very least, they can smile and nod when you talk to them in your learning language, but they can also respond to you in English according to their limited understanding. It’ll be up to you to respond in another language.

When in doubt, they can quiz you on vocabulary or hold your flashcards for you. Or if you’re really up for a challenge, try watching a foreign-language movie or TV show together without subtitles. It’ll be up to you to explain what’s going on. If it’s too annoying to keep pausing it every five minutes, you can also watch or read something by yourself and then summarize it to your quarantine partner later over dinner. It’s probably better than talking about what happened over Zoom that day.

Looking for lessons you can both keep up with?
Try Babbel