How To Get Native Speakers To Speak Your Target Language

You may know this feeling: You've spent hours on your own pronouncing words into your phone, studying vocabulary, and when you want to practice your language with friends...they just keep switching back to English!

"Hey, möchtest du vielleicht heute Abend Tatort gucken?" - "Yes, that sounds great. I will bring beer." - "Ähhh, danke."

If you find it frustrating that your friends keep switching back to English, you are not alone. This week on the podcast, I have got a packed episode full of tips to help you stay in control when native speakers don't want to speak their language with you.

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The most common issue here is for English speakers. You’re likely to meet the largest number of people who are learning English (because everyone is) and you’re one in a dozen as a learner looking for practice time.

Why Do They Do This?

  1. They don’t want to be rude. Most commonly, people will want to include you in their conversations and make this as easy as possible.
  2. They are prioritising their own learning - again, it’s unusual that you want to learn their language and they’ve been wanting to practice their English for ages, so you’re just the person they’ve been looking for.
  3. They’re busy. You may have chosen a person who just wants to get things done right now. You are speaking slowly and taking 3 seconds between words. You’re hard to understand. You’re looking up words in the dictionary. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  4. They think this is a struggle for you and want to make your life easier. Language learning is effort, and if they see you looking up every other word they may just want to save you the work especially if you drop into English now and then.

What You Must Accept

  1. You can’t win them all - even if you had the perfect accent, chances are that you're still over 6 months away from having those fluent, easy, flawless interactions that you're dreaming of in your Vision Goals. That's okay. Remember that rejection is only for the moment, and only relevant to the current situation.
  2. You may need to be persistent. This issue will not be resolved even when you get to the higher levels in your language, because it is not just a reflection of you. It’s always about the other speaker and where they are at, so prepare to try several times and start looking for the compromise.
  3. You may need to hunt down a person who is the right partner for you. Especially in the early stages of your language learning journey, this may well be a tutor who can support you until you're fast and confident enough to stick with the target language.

What You Can Try

  1. Seek out a group - when they have a common language of interaction with each other, they are more likely to slip in and out. You can eavesdrop, join a meeting, or simply go out for drinks and let them know that you’ll try and stay in their language.
  2. Set up a clear language exchange or ask them for temporary support such as being 100% in their native language for just 20 minutes.
  3. Improve your local flair - this one is great for service and shorter interactions, for travel, and for talking to in-laws. If you are regularly frustrated because you can’t even manage to small talk for 2 minutes before there is a switch, then you’ll get a lot out of improving your language skill so you can fake it til you make it. 2 ways to do this: Pronunciation perfection, and stock phrases (fillers, standard constructions).
  4. Wait until you’re more confident and a little faster. You are going to get there. Until then, the person who keeps switching away from your target language just won’t be the right person to talk to.
  5. Go with it. Think bilingual conversation, not “battle lost”. Make it fluid, and even if they switch into English you can stay in your own target language and send a signal.

As you've seen there are different ways of dealing with situations like these. Remember to employ empathy when you are speaking to any native speaker of your target language. Consider their own perspective and the situation they are in. Often, it goes a long way just to mention that you are a learner and to say "I could use some practice, can we speak your language?".

Have You Had Good Luck Practicing Your Target Language?

Leave me a comment or say hi on Twitter to share your own experiences of speaking with native speakers. Who switches to English? How have you dealt with it? I'm looking forward to hearing from you guys.