Should you practice with Non-Native speakers?!

Alright, so this is probably going to end up angering and offending a few people because I find that a lot of people seem to be torn on this matter. “What is the matter at hand?” You’re probably asking yourself. Well, let me tell you! The question is whether or not you should actively practice the language you’re learning with non-native speakers.

Once again this is based on my experiences and opinions, so you have every right to disagree with me on this.

I made a video in this a while back that can be viewed by clicking here

My experience

When I was in French immersion…I can already see your faces because you all know how much I wasn’t a fan of French immersion and you all know how much I bring it up. Anyway, I remember that in class, we were actively pushed to speak French with our fellow classmates. Sounds great doesn’t it? Being surrounded by other learners and getting to practice with other people in the same position as you? It does sound great on paper, but in practice, I just found that I ended up copying a lot of my other classmate’s mistakes and vice versa. I remember I wanted to say “I’m finished”, but I think what I said ended up translating to “I’m finished”, but in the sense that my life was ending or something along those lines. Where did I learn that from? My other non native classmates of course!. To this day I still make a lot of mistakes that I picked up from my non native classmates. It’s hard to iron out mistakes that have gone unnoticed for so long because they enter your long term memory and are really hard to unlearn. I’m fully aware that schools don’t have enough money to hire native speakers for each individual student to talk to for the entire day and that wouldn’t be practical either, but my point is that from my personal experience, practicing with non native speakers seems to have done more harm than good.

The ESL students!

I’ve met tons of ESL students who come to Canada to learn to speak English. A lot of them end up staying in groups of other international students despite the fact that they’re in Canada and are surrounded by Canadians who speak English as a first language. A lot of these students don’t show as much improvement as they could if they just spent more time with English speaking Canadians. I have also on many occasions seen ESL students try to correct each other’s mistakes with more mistakes. I once overheard two French students trying to figure out how to say “I’m bored and I want to go home” in English. The sentence ended up being “I’m going home because I’m boring”. I knew what he meant because I had heard them deliberating before hand, but that could throw somebody else off. I know it’s not the end of the world, but if they had just asked me or another native speaker, we could’ve given them the correct translation. It hurts me every time I see this because some of them pay thousands of dollars to fly all the way here to risk freezing weather and cookies and cream ice cap shortages… only to hang out with groups of people who may even be from the same city as them back in their home country.

But wait.. what if the Non-native speaker has a high level?

I’m pretty on the fence about this personally because I DO do this occasionally, but only when there are other native speakers around and only because it can be weird being in a group of people speaking  language X and you and the other non-native randomly keep switching back to English. I’ve been there and done that, but if it isn’t a special case like this, I try to avoid it. I do, however, find that a more experienced learner can help you with the learning process itself because they’ve most likely experienced the same struggles as you before you did. Given that, they’d probably be able to help you figure certain things out faster because they’ve already been there. The problem, however persists. They’re still non-native speakers and will still make mistakes.

I’m not claiming that native speakers don’t make mistakes because they do. I made a few mistakes writing this post. Native speakers make tons of mistakes. We all make them and quiet often too. The only thing is that I’ve personally noticed is that the mistakes native speakers make seem to be different from the mistakes that non-native speakers make. Native speakers are also able to correct themselves a good deal of the time. This may be difficult for non native speakers.

Shut up! You’re just a perfectionist!

I know a lot of you guys have probably been silently thinking this the whole time, and I don’t blame you! It does seem like I’m a perfectionist, but wait, let me explain a little bit more before you dive into the comment section and roast me! I wouldn’t consider myself to be a perfectionist, especially not when it comes to language learning and I think everyone else should give up on the whole idea of one day speaking “perfectly” because I’m sorry to say it, but it will never happen. As I said in the paragraph above this, native speakers make mistakes too. If even native speakers themselves make mistakes, then it would be very illogical to assume or hope that we could one day reach a point where we make no mistakes. It’s impossible, unrealistic and a belief that is conducive to failure.

It depends on your motives

Although I know I will never speak perfectly and will probably never be 100% mistaken for a native speaker, I want to get as close to being mistaken for a native speaker as possible. There are many perks that go along with having a “Native like accent” and also with knowing slang and expressions that you could only learn through spending time with Native speakers.

My German is nowhere near native, but I have a higher level than a friend of mine who is also learning German. I’ve seen people significantly slow down their speech for him which is nice and courteous, but I feel like it takes away from the flow of conversation. I’ve had more exposure to native speakers than he has and it’s rare that people slow down their speech for me.

At the end of the day it all depends on your motives and reasoning for learning the language. You may not have the same goals as me. You may not care about sounding similar to a native speaker and that’s ok. You also may not care about your grammar and only care about basic communication which is also ok. We all learn languages for different reasons. If I were to learn Esperanto for example, I wouldn’t care that much about sounding like a native, so I’d probably embrace speaking to other leaners.

So to wrap things up…

Alright, so if you haven’t closed this page out of rage and are still here, I’m happy you’re still here. That being said, I want to reiterate the fact that this is all based on my experiences and beliefs and that you have every right to disagree with me because dialogue and conversation lead to learning and, I don’t know about you, but discussing this topic in more detail could lead to me becoming a better, more efficient language learner and why would I not want that?

Remember, whether or not you actively practice with native speakers will depend on your motives. We all learn languages for different reasons, so one thing may work for some of us, but it may NOT work for others. Only practicing with native speakers is what I need to do to reach my goal. What are your goals?

Closing words.

Alright, I hope you guys have understood what I was trying to say in this article and that it helps. Remember, it all depends on your goals and reasoning for learning the language.

Please don’t forgo communication completely in order to avoid risking copying another person’s mistakes! If you’re Dutch and your best friend is Brazilian, don’t end the friendship just because of this article! Same goes if you’ve been married for 20 years and don’t share a common native language! If you MUST get divorced just make sure it’s over snoring or something else thats actually important! Not over mixed up past tense endings!

Anyway, keep learning languages, folks! 

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This Picture was taken from the Mount Royal look out in Montreal, Quebec in Canada

2 comments

  1. I think the key word in your post is ‘practice’. I you want to practice your languages to get better at them, yes, you’re better off practicing with the native speakers. Especially when you’re on an intermediate or advanced level. However, we cannot forget that we learn languages to communicate and connect with other people. One of my best friends is Spanish and she speaks broken English. My Spanish is getting better now but few years ago when we met it was non-existent. English isn’t a native language for neither of us but it didn’t stop us from developing a meaningful relation. Another example is my Japanese friend that always prefered to communicate in Hungarian with me, partly because she wanted to practice (although I’m a native Polish speaker) and partly because she felt intimidated by her English and I didn’t speak Japanese 😀 So let’s just remember that there is a substantial difference between ‘practicing’ and ‘using’ a language 😀 I understand that you write from the perspective a very goal-oriented language learner and it definitely makes sense to ask the question you asked in this post. 🙂

    • Thanks for the read! :D. I do agree with you! Communication is the most important part. That’s why I was saying that you shouldn’t forgo communication altogether just to avoid copying the other persons mistakes towards the end of the article. The situation between you and your Spanish and Japanese friends is interesting though. I used to work with a Polish lady who struggled with English, but spoke fluent German, so we used German as our mode of communication despite it not being the native language of either of us, so I can relate. At the end of the day, I really love how language can connect people!

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