7 Simple Ways To Learn a Language With Native Speakers
by Olly Richards
It's probably fair to say that speaking effortlessly with native speakers is the holy grail for most language learners. Learn a language with native speakers and you will accelerate your learning progress.
Who doesn't want to saunter down a leafy avenue in Buenos Aires, stop off for a quick drink in a local bar and shoot the breeze with the locals?
What is a Native Speaker?
A native speaker is someone who speaks a language with native proficiency. They have learned that language from childhood or it's the first language they could speak. Native speakers will understand the language from a cultural perspective and know the intricate nuances of that language.
Learn a Language With Native Speakers: 7 Steps to Success
This post covers seven things to remember about how to talk with native speakers.
Find native language speakers who are sympathetic listeners. Look for someone who can be a sounding board. Someone who will patiently listen to you and try to understand.
This person takes on the role of the mother with the child. They're a support figure while you try to make sense of the language and allow you to take your first steps in producing the language, to try stuff out, test hypotheses, figure out what works, and generally explore the sense of the language.
They could be a friendly colleague, a girl/boyfriend, or a language exchange partner. Find one online here.
#2 Start Speaking
There is a school of thought that says “don't start speaking too soon”, and this may be good advice if you feel uncomfortable with speaking in the early stages.
The important thing to acknowledge is that as you delay speaking you miss out on a huge number of learning and “sense forming” opportunities. This learning compounds over time, just like interest in a bank.
For this reason, my approach is to practice the language with native speakers as early as possible. It has to be someone nice, someone that you like, who won't judge you. With this person, you can take your first baby steps in speaking and get some words out.
Try to accept the fact that you don't look stupid – quite the opposite – you look courageous for trying to learn the language. And keep your eye on the goal. Talk to native speakers as much as you can in the early stages of learning a new language. Visualising yourself conversing fluently in a number of months should be valuable motivation to keep going.
#3 Ask Questions
Speak to native speakers who are willing to answer your questions. And ask them questions! Try to find a “how do you say xxx?” person.
Currently, for me, I sit with the local Arabic staff at lunchtime in the office. They appreciate the enthusiasm and are happy to answer my questions. Or I just listen and absorb the sounds of the language. It's a luxury to have that.
If you don’t, it's a resource worth paying for. Not a teacher – but someone who can answer your questions.
If you can't pay, make it a language exchange. Exchanges have been possibly the single biggest resource in my learning. I like to do, say, 1-hour In the language you're learning and then give 1-hour in English in return.
#4 Prepare To Speak
Speaking is tough because it happens in real-time. But that doesn't mean you can't prepare for it.
Before going into a speaking situation, try mentally rehearsing what you're going to say and if there are any important words you don't know look them up in the dictionary beforehand (useful for opening bank accounts, let me tell you!).
It's also fine to make mistakes, don't be embarrassed by them! Think about a time when a non-native speaker asked you something in your native language. Did you judge them and not reply or did you help them get to the point they wanted to make? People will help you express yourself when you need them to. Don't be shy.
#5 Use Technology
There are dozens of apps to speak with native speakers. The more you put yourself out there, the easier it will be to improve your speaking skills. Download an app like Tandemand start chatting with natives who want to help you learn your target language!
Exploit technology and your most creative study ideas, like this one and this one, to help you improve the way you interact with native speakers.
#6 Get Used To How People Speak
Discourse (written or spoken communication) varies enormously between languages.
In Japanese you have aizuchi （あいづち）- nodding and ‘ahhh' noises rather than full responses, together with intense, polite listening – which can be off-putting for those used to Western styles of interaction.
The sooner you get used to the way people speak in your target language and learn what the signs and silences mean, the better. No amount of audio courses and self-study will prepare you for that reality on the ground.
Try observing native speakers when they talk amongst themselves so you can get used to their mannerisms.
#7 Don't Just Speak – Read
…but speaking on its own isn't enough. You can coast on beginner's luck for some time, but when you reach higher levels you need to start to read as much as possible.
Speaking happens at a fast pace, and you need to slow down the process in order to learn something from it, hence reading.
Find something on your passion and commit to a certain amount every day, no matter how impenetrable. The only certainty is that it’ll never get easier if you never do it.
Love martial arts? Find a Jujitsu website in Portuguese or an Aikido YouTube channel in Japanese and read the comments.
Now you have some ideas about how to learn a language from native speakers, it's time to get out there and do it.
Whether you find a language exchange buddy on an app or someone in real life to practice with, just get started. The hardest part about speaking a new language is often taking the initiative to get started.