Why English Speaking Practice with Natives Isn’t Really Useful?

2018-11-12T22:47:23+00:00By |Spoken English|

Many believe that speaking to native speakers regularly will improve their spoken English better than if they speak to non-native speakers.

I believe this is over-hyped. In reality, the efficacy of such interactions is underwhelming. Here are the reasons:

1. Native speakers learn English so naturally that they may not even know what it’s like to learn it

How did you learn your native language (or mother tongue)?

Do you remember grammar or other rules governing your native language?

Maybe some, but not most.

Why?

Because you learnt your native language naturally by listening to others around you in a complete immersive experience.

Would you be able to teach your native language to others? If you’re like most, you won’t be able to because you don’t know how to build it brick by brick. You can spot mistakes others are making, but you’ll likely struggle to suggest improvements and next steps because you don’t know most rules of the language.

Something similar happens when you try to learn English by talking to native speakers. They can easily point out mistakes you’re making, but they may not be the best to pinpoint steps to bridge your shortcomings.

2. Difference between your and their skills can make it a dull experience

Big difference in skillsHave you played a two-person sport such as tennis, table tennis, or badminton with a person whose skills were vastly different from yours?

If yes, how was the experience?

It makes for a poor experience for both. There would hardly be any rallies. Overall, the ball or the shuttle would be out of play for disproportionately long time.

Likewise, the conversation between you and a native speaker can turn out to be one-sided because of the vast difference between your and the native speaker’s English language skills, which would make for a dull experience and hence may not be sustainable beyond one or two sessions.

3. Cultural and other differences may lead to a dead end soon

Cultural and other differencesYou may know a lot about cricket or badminton, but the other person may not even know the basics of these sports. The native speaker may have a deep interest in baseball and basketball, but you may not have a heard a name beyond Michael Jordan. Same may go with other popular interests such as politics, movies, and food.

Because of cultural and other differences between you and the native speaker, you may not have enough common interests to sustain a long conversation. And good luck if you’re looking for multiple conversations over weeks.

It’s not that people from entirely different backgrounds and cultures can’t talk for hours. They can, but it takes special effort, which isn’t easy to come from both the sides simultaneously without a strong incentive.

You can, however, learn accent and pronunciation from native speakers

Well, you don’t need a different accent unless, mainly, your job requires you to speak in a particular accent.

But you can definitely learn correct pronunciation from native speakers who are almost perfect on this count. (Most non-native English speakers mispronounce words by the dozen every day without even realizing. The reason why they mispronounce so much is that they’ve learnt pronunciation mainly from listening to other non-native speakers who too are serial mispronouncers.) And you can learn correct pronunciation of many words even when the dialogue is predominantly one-way because the key requirement to learn pronunciation is listening to correct sounds.

But if the primary goal of speaking doesn’t work well, why would you look for elusive native speakers (it’s hard to find someone who would be willing to speak with you for multiple sessions unless there is something for them in it) only to improve pronunciation when you can improve through simpler ways.

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