I’m going to let you in on a little secret today: I’m going to reveal to you one of the biggest lies told to English learners everywhere!
Again and again I’ve heard the same question from my students and RealLifers from around the world:
How can I speak with native speakers?
English learners are always wondering where they can find people from the U.S., UK, Australia, etc. who will help them practice their speaking (for free).
But do you really need to speak with Native English speakers to get fluent?
No, of course not!
This may sound unbelievable to you, but in this lesson, my goal is to show you that you do not need to speak with native English speakers to get fluent.
The Myth of Needing to Learn English With Natives
This idea of NEEDING to speak with native English speakers is a myth that has gained more and more momentum in the English as a second language field—much like the myth of needing to live abroad that we talked about in this lesson.
Despite the obvious fact that there are many excellent non-native teachers in the world, almost everyone believes they have to learn with natives, without considering its validity.
But, why do we think this is true?
Well, it seems logical. But so does the theory of the world being flat if you just look around your small part of the Earth, which is probably why people saw it as a fact for so long.
Many believe that the language belongs to the native speakers, so if we want to speak it ‘correctly’ we must speak English with them, right?
However, this idea is a barrier to the reality that languages are not so black and white [clearly defined]. Especially English because it is the global language for communication.
The Truth About Language
What seems logical is not always what is true.
No language is a set of natural laws, like math or science (although they are usually taught in that way). Languages are fluid and evolving. There is no perfect way to speak them. Native speakers bend the rules, and usually we do NOT care if learners make mistakes, as long as we can understand them.
Think about this: If you spoke to a learner of your own language, would you get annoyed or angry if they made some mistakes? I’m almost certain your answer is, “Of course not.”
We have discovered from our years of teaching, local events, and from our social app, RealLife Global, that English learners can succeed in getting real fluency without ever living abroad or speaking with a native speaker.
That said, let me share with you the three myths that we have discovered, with the help of the RealLife Community, about speaking English with native speakers:
- Natives speak the ‘real’ English
- Natives can correct you better than non-natives
- Natives will correct your mistakes and help you learn.
MYTH 1: Natives speak the ‘real’ English
THE TRUTH? English is the global language!
English is no longer just a language spoken in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.
English is used in virtually all cross-cultural interactions, like business and tourism.
In the last century, English has evolved into the Global Language used to communicate with people from other countries. In fact, there are twice as many non-native English speakers than natives!
And did you know that about 75% of the English spoken is non-native to non-native?
For example, when a German company meets with a Brazilian company, what language do you think they discuss in? It would be strange for them to converse in Portuguese or German, right? We expect that they all speak English.
For this reason, it would be foolish [silly] to have a goal of only speaking with native speakers. You need to have a global perspective, and be able to communicate with people from any country, despite their accent.
I would even argue that we are evolving beyond needing to choose between learning American or British English. Soon, students will learn global English.
MYTH 2: Natives can correct you better than non-natives
THE TRUTH? It is important to consider input vs. output!
If you have problems with aspects of the language like listening, vocabulary, grammar, or even pronunciation, just speaking with a native will not (necessarily) help.
Need help with vocabulary? Try this.
Need help with pronunciation? Try this.
Anyone who believes that they need a native speaker in order to improve their listening (or vocabulary, grammar, etc.) is just making an excuse for the hard work they still have to do learning the language.
Not having native speakers around is NOT a valid excuse not to improve your English.
Any teacher or native speaker cannot do this work for you. A good teacher’s job is not to make you learn. A good teacher is your guide on the path to fluency. But it is up to YOU to walk the path.
The most valuable part of speaking with someone from the U.S.A., U.K., etc. is that you get to hear the language as it is spoken in that country. NOT that you will get your mistakes corrected. In my experience, unless it is a teacher that you are paying, it is unlikely that a native speaker will correct your mistakes.
That is why the difference between input (reading, listening) and output (writing, speaking) is so important.
When improving our speaking is the goal, listening is especially important to absorb how the language is naturally spoken.
The wonderful thing about English is that there are tons and tons of resources for input that are easily accessible for anyone. You can listen to podcasts and radio and watch TV series and movies (learn more here).
Input actually helps you to contextualize and internalize aspects of the language like the rhythm and flow, correct pronunciation, colloquialisms, and grammar in use, which all are reflected when you start speaking.
And it does not matter if your speaking practice is with a non-native, or even alone. What is important is that you put what you are learning to use and speak at every opportunity.
And just to quickly resolve another common misconception…
Will Speaking with Non-Natives Make My English Worse?
Conversation with non-native speakers will NOT make your English worst if you are balancing it with enough native resources.
It’s easy to surround yourself with native speakers, without living abroad, and without actual native friends.
And in fact, many learners have told me they believe speaking with non-natives from different countries helps their listening because they get used to a variety of accents.
In summary, by listening a lot and speaking regularly you will see your confidence AND fluency improve.
MYTH 3: Natives correct your mistakes and help you learn
THE TRUTH? Other English learners are empathetic and understand your experience!
Most people say they want to speak with a native speaker, but are actually too scared to.
In fact, for most people, this is the biggest barrier to fluency. Because of this, they either resist looking for opportunities to speak, or when they get the chance, they freeze up or find an excuse not to practice.
But speaking to other learners is not nearly as scary. As one RealLifer told me, “When I speak with a non-native I feel comfortable because I’m one of them.”
You do not have to worry about them judging you because they know how you feel.
I have talked to many RealLife Global participants who have been proactive about looking for other learners to speak with. Over and over I’ve seen how it has helped them to build their confidence and even eliminate their fear of speaking to natives!
Being a great teacher or a helpful learning partner depends completely on experience.
The average English learner knows more about English grammar than the average native English speaker. Most native speakers (probably over 97%) do not understand the complexities of their own language, and even less know how to teach it.
Furthermore, many English native speakers feel it is rude to correct someone’s mistakes. Other learners empathize with your fears and challenges. For this reason, they are more likely to correct you.
Most people that think they NEED to speak with a native speaker have little (if any) experience actually speaking with people from non-English speaking countries. And many who have not done enough work to improve their listening, confidence, and conversational skills don’t realize that if they have a conversation with a native right now, they are going to have a lot of difficulty understanding and communicating with her. Natives generally speak fast, connect their speech, and use a lot of slang and expressions.
This can build on one’s existing anxiety of speaking, and causes many to quickly give up.
That’s why just starting to speak, especially with someone who is patient and empathetic, is a huge confidence boost [improvement]. This is EXACTLY what a learner needs to get over her fears, to start communicating, and move towards fluency.
If you get the chance, of course speaking with natives is great.
But too many people think of natives as a magic pill that will suddenly give them fluency, while ignoring the hard work and dedication they have to put in.
Without first changing your mindset, how you think about learning, you will never be fluent. I know this not just from speaking to hundreds of English learners, but because I too have fallen into this trap!
Just speaking is NOT enough to gain advanced levels of fluency. It can actually be frustrating because we have the expectation that speaking with natives is enough, and then in reality find out that it’s not. There is still a lot of hard work necessary on our behalf.
I have found that by speaking with natives, I can get conversationally fluent. But to move towards true mastery of the language, I still need to do a lot of work myself (studying the rules, drilling pronunciation exercises, reading and acquiring advanced vocabulary, etc.).
Speaking helps us gain confidence and fluency. Studying and working on our issues help us achieve mastery!
If fluency is your goal, start NOW! Be proactive. Stop making excuses.
Don’t ignore the potential of connecting with the huge amount of learners like yourself. You are missing out on a huge opportunity to share your experience, improve your speaking, learn about other cultures, increase your confidence, and gain fluency!
All right, so now that you are convinced that you need to speak (with natives, with non-natives, with whoever wants to listen!), you are probably asking:
Where can I meet these people?
We had great success with RealLife Global, the first ever community for English learners to practice together and exchange cultures–for FREE and without a teacher. Tens-of-thousands of learners connected, made international friends, and grew their confidence.
In order to optimize the technology and improve the experience we decided to rebuild it.
Now we have amazing news! We have been working hard on the next version of RealLife Global, which will be releasing in the next couple months (October 2016) as a mobile application for your smartphone.
Want to join us?
You can be one of the FIRST to use the new RealLife Global App. Just click the link below to sign up to be alerted once it is available for download!
We are excited to see you there!
Want to learn more?