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Your language skills vs. native speakers


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My cousin studied French in school for years. She learned the language in detail. Or so she thought. When she graduated, she finally got the chance to go to France. She felt she was fully prepared. She had learned the history, the customs, and spoke the language fluently. But when she arrived, to her dismay, she struggled to even understand the French, let alone speak to them as a native speaker. I don't know if she was in an area where the dialect was different, or if Americans are not teaching French the way the French actually speak it. Have you ever run into a similar situation?

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I studied English in the primary section of the Danish school system, and I've been told that my English is damn near perfect (pardon the expression) but for some reason when I went to London for the first time, nobody understood a word of what I was saying.

It actually made me really uncomfortable in speaking for the rest of my trip.

As for France, I took French for a short while, and the French speak a in hundred miles per hour. I'´have several friends who had perfect grades in French who has no clue what's going on when it comes to actually speaking to French people. They're notorious for it.

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While English is widely spoken in my country, and I believe I have fair grasp of the language, I ,however, feel small when speaking to a native speaker. I often tell people, I have no problem with the language. My comprehension level is excellent, FOR SO LONG as we are talking about the WRITTEN word. I don't know why my speaking skill shrinks when talking to Americans or any other English-speaking foreign national. I can keep up with what the American is saying, I just lose the ability to respond, haha!!

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I studied English in the primary section of the Danish school system, and I've been told that my English is damn near perfect (pardon the expression) but for some reason when I went to London for the first time, nobody understood a word of what I was saying.

It actually made me really uncomfortable in speaking for the rest of my trip.

As for France, I took French for a short while, and the French speak a in hundred miles per hour. I'´have several friends who had perfect grades in French who has no clue what's going on when it comes to actually speaking to French people. They're notorious for it.

British English is quite a bit different in terms of the way Americans speak it. It is so different in fact, oftentimes on websites there are options for the American or Brit version. The spellings are different as well. Examples (with American English first) Color/Colour. Rumor/Rumour. Specter/Spectre. Saber/Sabre. Three out of the four examples came up wrong in spell check. That gives you an idea of the differences.

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Yes! Book learning and practical application can feel like completely different languages sometimes! Because of this some disregard one or the other but I feel both are necessary even though frustrating. Book learning makes us speak formally and native speakers in general may not use such a 'high language'. Idiomatic expressions, slang, and accent can maybe it very hard to understand. However, if the learner attempts to speak this way it often doesn't sound right to the native hear. For example, to the learner's ear and American pronounces 'water' like 'wader'. But when a learner says, 'Wader' and not 'water', the D is often over pronounced making it not sound right. I think the key is to humbly fight through the initial language barriers. After your prepared introduction, (no matter how good you feel you are at the language) which will sound something like this, 'I am still learning the language, i apologize if I make a mistake...' (then continue) I find my listeners open their ears more and seem to try harder to understand. They also won't switch to my native language thinking they are helping me by doing that. They will continue to try to speak with me testing out how much I understand and then go from there. This method has worked so far but after over 5 years of my current language I still struggle with it when I meet a new person. We are relocating to a new area that has a different dialect and uses more French, so we need to improve yet again in another language area.

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British English is quite a bit different in terms of the way Americans speak it. It is so different in fact, oftentimes on websites there are options for the American or Brit version. The spellings are different as well. Examples (with American English first) Color/Colour. Rumor/Rumour. Specter/Spectre. Saber/Sabre. Three out of the four examples came up wrong in spell check. That gives you an idea of the differences.

Yes, you are right. I've been in a British institution for 5 years now and there are still new terms, spellings and pronunciation that I'm discovering. Our country is more exposed to the American English so it took me a while to really adjust to their English. There are British with really strong accent that even they cannot sometimes understand each other.

The very first thing that I learned which baffled me was how they call a sweatshirt or sweater. It's jumper to them. A British English teacher I know cannot explain why they call it that. Anyway, there are still loads of differences. I must say that during my first couple of years, I had a difficult time speaking and understanding some of the accents. But writing is much easier since they even ask me for the correct spelling of some words and the correct grammar to use. And that's where I heard and saw in writing the could of, would of, should of...

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While English is widely spoken in my country, and I believe I have fair grasp of the language, I ,however, feel small when speaking to a native speaker. I often tell people, I have no problem with the language. My comprehension level is excellent, FOR SO LONG as we are talking about the WRITTEN word. I don't know why my speaking skill shrinks when talking to Americans or any other English-speaking foreign national. I can keep up with what the American is saying, I just lose the ability to respond, haha!!

Hi Takibari. I know what you mean. It is because we, non-native English speakers, just lack the confidence to speak English and we know they can express themselves much better which is a given. Lol! Truth is they are not too conscious of their grammar and spellings just as we are not of our own language. Yes, they know what terms to use for some words we do not even know the english equivalent of. But come on, that's their language. They should know! Lol!

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Whenever a language is studied by the book it is never the same as learning from native speakers. This is why imersion is one of the best ways to learn a language. When you are amongst the natives you find that a lot of the things you learnt from books are quite different, even by region.

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I was taught Chinese by immigrants at school and I guess by the time they were teaching my class most of them have already been living here for decades so they must have already lost some of their accents. It's why when I go to other Chinese speaking countries where their accents are very thick it's still very hard for me to understand but fortunately my lessons were enough to give me enough of an idea of what they are talking about.

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You are discussion speech  not  language skill as  in comprehension of  the written word or spoken formal ,like the one you learn in books.

Speech is often very lax among people in general , when not  in a public forum like TV hosts or at work or schools. I often find it strange, that  when you come to the advanced level in school or at  the place they teach you language, they don't let you hear radio, and watch TV shows to hear what it sounds like in normal speech.

Usually many languages have different accents and  way of speaking ,compared to the formal way of speaking and writing.

When I talk with my friend I might say : Lets Go! Comin' ar' ya?  But I would write; Let us go, are you coming?

I would skip words when talking, that is there in writing, and if I were to give a formal speech.

I guess we all do in our normal day to day talk with others. And speed up  is one thing that we all in our native languages.

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What Kaffi says makes a lot of sense. Not do you find yourself among people who will skip words but you'll also hear slang terms and regular speech mixed and spoken very fast because it is natural to them. In Puerto Rico, you'll find that the native have a habit of "eating" consonants and vowel in words to make them flow together faster. Why was this done? Puerto Rico is a very musical island and in the history of the slaves that were there was a lot of mix ups between the African language (which is somewhat rhythmic and smooth) and the Spanish language. These two, along with the indigenous Taino language, created a very musical vocabulary in which words were purposely shortened to make them fit into 4 over 4 measures of music.

Culture in small towns is a huge factor when learning a language.

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I guess this is why everyone is always saying "immersion" is important! No matter how much book-learning you do, I guess it can't really prepare you for 1) people speaking really fast (which is normal for them), 2) shortened words and 3) slang!

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This is generally a common problem among those who are taught without the native background of the language to back them up; speeds, dialects, etc. also play a part in the language learning process. It's just a part of the language that we have to become comfortable with before fully considering ourselves capable of speaking as though we could do it natively. The problem is it is also very easy to become embarrassed when you mess up after speaking so fluently for so long.

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Academic English is something quite different to the English that is spoken on a daily basis by native speakers. I have encountered this problem many times. I have a Colombian friend who studied English for nearly six years at a university, and yet her English is quite bad. She was instructed by non-native teachers and has never had the opportunity to visit an English speaking country.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Oh my "immersion" really is important when it comes to language skills or properly being able to converse in a newly learned language with native speakers indeed.

In my experience I found that whenever I am in the midst of native speakers no matter how confident I may feel or how much of the language I think I know I always get tongue tied and never really understand what is being said to me mostly because the natives speak at a terrible fast pace and seem to also mince most of their words. I experienced this when I visited one of the rural areas in South Africa called Kwa-Zulu Natal. I had to really take time and listen intently and attentively otherwise I would miss the whole point of the conversation and go off on a tangent. Even though I believe that I have a great grasp of the Zulu language.

This as you can imagine becomes highly embarrassing and you might also get weird looks as though to say, hey we thought you were fluent at this particular language but seem to know nothing about it.

So I would say that it is always better to have practice with a native speaker of the language you just learned so as to polish up the dialect and catch a few of their common terms and phrases.

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Whenever a language is studied by the book it is never the same as learning from native speakers. This is why imersion is one of the best ways to learn a language. When you are amongst the natives you find that a lot of the things you learnt from books are quite different, even by region.

This so true! In school, you're not really taught the spoken version, but rather the stiff and rigid text book language that many natives don't speak!

Like most people, when I went to live in the UK I often struggled to understand what the locals were saying and vice versa. The one thing I liked though, I was told I speak outstanding if a little posh English....not the accent, but mainly my choice of words. Sometimes people would ask me to define English words as apparently I use big, posh words LOL But after living there for thirteen years, I soon became "one of them" in terms of dropping a few words out of my vocabulary and picking up more vernacular/regional language.

American English can leave me scratching my head! I recently took a test for an online job and I'm not joking, I wasted a lot of time trying to understand sections of the test! It was like an altogether different version of the English language. Needless to say, I didn't do very well.

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English is so widely spoken here that most people's skill's are at par with the native speaker's skills, and I dare say even better at times. So I guess when it comes to my English speaking skills, it is the same in fluency with the native speaker's skills.

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Earlier today I went to get my employment papers as a precondition for appointment to the government service. While waiting for the papers to be released, I was glancing at the tarpaulins and noticed that there are some words which are misspelled.  For a government agency, I find it both laughable and sad at the same time.  The government should learn to proofread its mistakes.  As for me, my language skills are all right, because I got a very high rating in the Verbal Aptitude portion of the government service exams.  However, I'll admit that my skills are still far from the level of native speakers.  In fact, if your language skills are always in constant need of improvement, it means that you will have to study more and more and the path to learning doesn't end there. 

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