One of the best things you can do to build your fluency and speaking confidence is to close the textbook and get out and meet native English speakers.
I recommend native speakers – as opposed to other learners – because you’ll experience more improvement per hour spent speaking with them than you would while doing any other study or practice activity.
Most crucial to developing your fluency, native speakers will help you learn the real words and phrases used in conversations today, improve your pronunciation, and introduce you to culture naturally. They’ll also give you valuable listening, fluency training and confidence building experience with every meeting.
The amazing team at Real Life English understands the importance of meeting native speakers, and has already released some great articles to help you do just that. Ethan’s post on CouchSurfing, in particular, reveals some fantastic ways to utilize a portal that many English learners probably never even knew existed.
There really are countless websites and services available to help you connect with native English speakers. But before you’re able to use these resources effectively, you must first understand the role of native English speakers in your fluency journey, and have a proven strategy for approaching and building relationships with them.
The True Purpose of Native English Speakers
One of the biggest mistakes English learners make – one stopping them from developing the lasting relationships essential to fluency – is demanding far more than should be expected from native English speakers. Beyond conversation practice, many students expect to have their mistakes corrected, require answers to complicated questions about the English language, and think little of what they might offer native speakers in return for their time and support.
Luckily, you can quickly erase any confusion, fear and worry you might experience when meeting native speakers, and pave the way to lots of lasting relationships with ease, by recognizing a simple truth: fluency building is a team sport.
I often explain this idea to learners with the helpful analogy of a business. Like any team sport, a business relies on the specific talents of the organization’s individuals. Each person on the team offers appropriate advice and skills, and none is expected to speak about things they’re unfamiliar with. If the president of a chain of restaurants wouldn’t ask a waiter complicated questions about accounting, does it make sense for English learners to ask native speakers complex questions about the language that should be directed to English teachers?
You should think of native speakers as the part of your team that helps you improve your fluency by talking about and doing things IN English with you. Remember that speaking a language doesn’t qualify someone to teach it, and that you will probably have a better understanding of things like grammar rules than most native speakers.
There are probably many things about your own language that you understand intuitively and probably couldn’t explain clearly, so with the exception of the occasional question about the language, just develop a friendly relationship with the native speakers you meet, and learn the language naturally through conversations and activities the way you learned your own language.
From today, be conscious of the roles each member and resource plays on your fluency team. Don’t depend on any one teacher, resource or native English speaking friend for all of your learning needs, and be sure to utilize the strengths of each team member to give you the fastest improvement possible.
How to Prepare Your Mind to Meet Native Speakers
Now that you see how native speakers fit into the fluency puzzle, it’s time to start meeting some!
First, remember that you are an English speaker, and not an English learner. The difference is subtle, yet it’s extremely important to your success. You may not be native, or even a confident speaker at a level you’re satisfied with, but you’re an English speaker nonetheless.
It’s essential to think of yourself as an English speaker because this will help you meet people the same way native speakers do. Thinking of yourself as a learner trains your mind to seek knowledge of the English language itself, like explanations for grammar rules.
Remembering you’re an English speaker, however, encourages your mind to find fun activities that will help you USE English while doing things you enjoy. This change in thinking also reminds you that you have just as much right as native speakers to enjoy everything from cooking and fishing to dating and travel in English.
After you internalize the idea that you are an English speaker, and believe it to be true, it’s time to adapt the way you approach native speakers to open conversations and begin relationships.
Imagine a young man entering a bar full of people on a Saturday night. He looks around, sees a nice woman he’d like to approach and walks up to her. After exchanging basic greetings, the man asks the woman to marry him.
The woman, who already responded to the initial greeting with some nervousness, is now REALLY worried. She knows almost nothing about the man proposing to her and she thinks he must be VERY weird and needy.
The lesson for English students is obvious – the man was unsuccessful because he tried to go from introduction to very intimate relationship in a single step. Native speakers are people just like you. They also want to find new and interesting friends. And, like you, they worry about meeting people who might be crazy, only interested in sex, demanding or contribute nothing valuable to a relationship.
The relationships you want with native speakers need to be built on trust over time, and certain steps must happen to take these relationships to higher, more intimate levels.
Decide Who You’d Like to Meet
Even more destructive than trying to rush relationships by asking for Skype conversations too quickly, many students search for native speaking practice partners without any clear focus or strategy. They often try to connect with anyone willing, as opposed to seeking out those native speakers who’d make ideal friends and practice partners. Don’t settle for just anyone when you can choose your perfect target! 🙂
Even if you’ve never successfully met native speakers to practice with, begin now by imagining the kind of people you’d like to meet. Describe them in detail. Are they male or female? How old are they? What are their interests? Where do they live? What kind of English do they speak? The more detailed you can be in your description – and the more clearly you can see them in your mind – the easier it will be to find and connect with them in real life.
Next, see yourself engaged in conversations with these native speakers in your mind. What are you talking about? What are you learning, and what activities are you engaged in while speaking? Are you speaking with people via Skype, or are you sitting with them in some café while traveling in a foreign country? If you can see the conversation – and the activities you’re participating in with native speakers – you WILL be able to make them happen.
Now, decide what you are willing to GIVE in return for meeting the native speakers you envision. Nothing is truly free, and lasting relationships require time and energy. Are you willing to make the effort to contact people, and to become a supportive friend and partner? How can you help them, and what can you teach? (Note: This doesn’t have to mean teaching your language in return for learning English, which I believe is neither the best use of your time nor very practical for most people. So, think about an interest you’re familiar with that you can share information about from your unique perspective, as I did when I came to Japan to learn Japanese gardening.)
Finally, express gratitude. Even before meeting these people, be grateful that there are people in this world excited to welcome you into their lives as a valued friend. Be thankful, also, that you live at a time when it’s never been easier to connect with people, and for a mind that can help you do so. Take a moment every day to really feel this sense of gratitude, and your ideal practice partners will begin to appear like magic.
Be mindful of how you think, take all of the above steps seriously, and contact the people you’re interested in meeting WITHOUT mentioning anything about improving your English, and you will be on your way to becoming a confident speaker with many native friends.
For a detailed blueprint containing precise directions on how to meet the right native speakers for you – including step-by-step instructions on where to meet people and exact scripts to use when making introductions – I invite you to download The Key to the Globe: How to Meet Native English Speakers Online to Improve Your Spoken English, my guide and companion mp3 which you can download for free here. This free guide explains everything you need to know to start making native English speaking friends today.
Drew Badger is an author, English fluency and speaking confidence expert with 10+ years of experience, teacher-trainer, creator of Shaberry Sensei, and co-founder of EnglishAnyone.com. His more than 200 online video lessons have been viewed over two million times, and he was recently featured on the world’s first massive open online teacher training course for English educators – where he taught over 2,000 English teachers from around the world. He lives and continues to teach English to the world from Nagasaki, Japan. You can find Drew via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.