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I recently started learning a new language. Together with studying it, I am also attending a conversation group, where people learning the language and people with native proficiency in the same language meet and talk.

The conversation group has two levels: advanced and beginners. With the advanced, people communicate only in the target language, while with beginner people use a neutral language (English) and then practice small conversations in the target language with a guide. Joining one of the two is based on self assessment, and the guide is a native speaker.

I join the beginner level, and it's usually fine. The problem is that it sometimes happens that some attendee starts disrupting the group, i.e. in 3 out of 8 lessons it happened that, 3 different people had the following behaviors:

  • rolls eye up and makes annoyed face when someone else is slow at introducing themselves
  • starts playing with language apps on their phone when it's not their turn to speak
  • starts advising the guide on which method is better to learn the language
  • stops participating in the group, focusing on doing some written exercise

The guide, upon noticing this, usually asked them if they preferred to move to the advanced group. In all 3 cases they preferred to stay in the beginner group, without changing their behavior, though.

I find this really disruptive for the mood of the group: being all beginners I am sure nobody feels comfortable in stuttering few words, so an unwelcoming atmosphere is not going to make things easier.

How can I get this stranger to change their behavior when it is negatively impacting the conversation group?

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    Have you talked with the guide? It look like a lack of evaluation on their side or the ability to engage and occupy those people. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 5 at 12:16
  • Hi Kuro! Like the answer here asks: How do you handle/react to these situations right now? Do you wait for the guide to notice? – Tinkeringbell Jun 5 at 13:56
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First, this is mostly the guide's job. If the same person keeps doing things like this, you could say to the guide, one-on-one, that this person's behaviour is disrupting your learning and could the guide please make the person stop. You would not be wrong to do so.

But before you ask the guide to handle the recurring actions by different people, can I suggest to you another way of looking at it? This has helped me immensely in situations like these where I feel someone is judging or disrupting:

Every anger covers a wound

[I have, on multiple occasions over the past 3 decades, been the teacher with someone in the class who was making things more difficult for others in ways like you describe, and when I pushed further, I found that every time, the person was having trouble learning the material and was showing their anger and frustration in ways like those you describe. Since you are not the teacher/guide, I am not going to advise you on how to change the other person's behaviour, or at least not focus on that, but instead on how to change your perception of the motivations behind that behaviour.]

You are describing someone who is clearly impatient and feels no compunction to hide that from those nearby. That's what eye rolling says: I am impatient and frustrated with how slow this person is being. That's what doing a different task or changing the subject says, too. Do you think this impatience is helping them learn a new language quickly and well? I bet it is not. I am also willing to bet these people fear "If I go to the advanced group, people would mock me and sneer at me as I do at these other losers I am stuck with in the beginner group."

All this rudeness, I have observed in similar situations, is a coverup for how inadequate and unready the impatient people feel. They can't let themselves be fully in the lesson. They have to be sitting back, observing, judging, being at least good at teaching even if they're not good at the language, and so on, all as ways of retaining some feeling of control in something that they are finding really hard.

From that position, how do you handle these interruptions? If they are non verbal (eye rolling, doing something on the phone, wandering off to do a written thing) you ignore them as best you can. You appear to completely ignore them. Inside you think "more insecurity, I see". If they are verbal - engaging the guide in meta talk like how to teach a thing - you can quietly say "can we stay on task please? I like how we're [practicing conversations or whatever] and don't want to talk about alternative methods." If the guide asks them if they want to move, and they say no they don't, you might, if you're feeling brave, try saying "then please join in with how we're doing things in this group" - but you're not obliged to do so.

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