Language Practice: Why You Don't Need A Native Speaker

language learning

The native speaker is often considered an absolute holy grail of language learning: They naturally know how language is used, they speak it perfectly and of course you will be immersed in your target language if you speak to one. But today, I'm writing to make you re-think your dependence!

Have you ever found one of the following problems when practicing with a native speaker:

  • It's difficult to understand regional accents
  • You ask them a question, and they respond with "it just is like this"
  • They always want to practice your language with you
  • You run out of topics after a few hours of discussing family, hobbies and weather

What if you have NO native speaker to talk to? Does that mean you will stop learning a language?

Why You Do Not Need A Native Speaker For Practice

In this blog, I'm not advocating that you avoid native level input and natural sources of your target language. They are what makes it come alive! By all means, make full use of Italki, social media and your own network to find a good language buddy, but please note the following:

You don't actually need a native speaker to practice with. This is so important to understand. You just need someone who's good enough or a little better than you. Sometimes it even helps not to have the native speaker, because a non-native speaker has learnt your target language too and can explain grammar and other problems more easily. Natives often don't even know which bits are hard for non-native speakers.

Why Practicing Online Isn't For Everyone

In addition to this point, some people just don't connect so well with the Skype or phone communication method. As an online language tutor, I work on Skype all the time, and it's a different to meeting in person - some of my students love it, some find it odd at the start. For some, I can just tell that it's not the right medium. So if you're In fact, the teenager who will practice his school French with you might actually be a better option than the French native speaker that you meet online.

Moral of the story: Make your own rules for what works for you.

What To Do About It

My advice would be to try a tutor, and that's just because:

  1. They work hard to make sure you understand, by reducing their own dialects and breaking sentences down to where you need them
  2. They will stick with you when you run out of the first 3 conversation topics with a language partner and research topics you need to talk about
  3. They won't expect you to spend any time teaching them your own language

Personally I learnt English before the internet was everywhere and still got from "pretty good" to "pretty fluent", through being taught by German natives and spending a lot of spare time listening to Pulp all the time and talking to myself. But I cannot imagine having done it without teachers. When your target language is German,

I think it's even more important that you find native speakers who understand your needs. German is that much easier to learn when you can make sense of the rules - and our spoken language is different from the grammar books. Trust yourself most of all, but if you have no native speaker around you please remember: It's not going to stop you.

How To Bring In Native-Like Practice

Of course, working without a native person to learn a language does not mean it would be wise to cut out all native-language content. When learning a language, it's important to know how it's spoken and to get a sense of the place where it's spoken.

You want to hear the sounds, the idioms, you want to know that there is a point to what you're doing here. In all learning, it's boring when it's just theory.

To get native-level practice into your studies before you go hunting for speakers all over town, try bringing in audio resources or even TV. It's easy to watch television in other languages or use cool software like Yabla.

And if you have regular access to native speakers, don't avoid them. Go out of your way to say even small things like good morning, and ask them "How do I say this in your language?" You'll soon find that every one of them is a small ambassador for their own language, just like you are for your own. And what's better than sharing?

How Soon Do You Work With Native Speakers?

Has it ever held you back that you can't find the native speaker? Or has shyness stopped you from talking to natives?

Leave your comment below to tell me more!

How much will you pay for a Language Tutor?

In recent months, I have seen many examples of experienced polyglots and language bloggers who posted guides to finding the perfect language tutor. There was the instructive article from Fluent in 3 Months, then a guide from I will teach you a language, and Judith Meyer also featured tips in her blog Learn Langs.

Experienced language learners agree on one thing: Learning a language with a tutor is a true game changer.

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It’s impossible to progress as much if you don’t start speaking your language at some point. And for an early stage learner, picking a tutor means working with someone who can help you bridge the gaps with ease.

Language tutor or language exchange?

Well, there isn’t anything in particular to tell you about what will work best for you. I work as a language tutor and my years of experience have definitely taught me a lot about learning styles, quirks of the German language and how to motivate and coach my students. All these skills are what an experienced tutor can offer you.

I wouldn’t recommend tackling a language exchange before you have learnt at least the essential structures and phrases of your target language. This often comes at early level A2. Starting an exchange too early will leave you feeling frustrated and stupid.

You do not get top quality at bottom prices

For the purpose of this article, I want to assume that you have made up your mind and you are looking for a tutor.

Now here is the part I want to talk to you about. I disagree with what the other articles are telling you. Let's talk about price. Most other articles include a sentence that goes a little like this:

Language lessons online are very cheap, you can get them for just $5 an hour.

$5 an hour? That’s less than you pay for a drink at Starbucks. Now I know that wages and currencies vary around the world and I’m not stupid, so please don’t come commenting with the “$5 is lots of money in xyz!” argument. Your online teacher's costs are not just measured in time-per-hour. They also have a family to support, an internet connection and webcam to buy, personal development to cover. These are all part of the job, and that’s the case even if they live in the cheapest country in the world.

Self-employed language teachers will price themselves as low as they can because they really love working with you. But when they are taking on 50 students a week because the price per lesson is very low, they become mediocre teachers. If you are able to approach the exchange with a mindset that considers both payment and benefits, you will not be ripped off.

Read on to find out how to find exactly the right partner for your needs and your budget.

How to Find a Price that Works for You

In order to help you select the right language learning partnership, it is helpful to approach sites like italki with a clear image of what you are truly looking for.

And please look beyond italki, because many of the greatest and most experienced teachers I know have their own blogs and websites. Comment below if you’re looking for a tutor in a specific language and I’ll happily connect you.

Option Number 1: The freebie

Look for a language exchange partner and simply swap time helping them practice your native language for time practicing your target language.

Pros:

  • You don’t even have to look online because many foreign students or residents in your town might be looking for language exchanges too.
  • Sharing the language learning experience is very motivating and you’ll see the partner’s success just as much as yours.

Cons:

  • There is a learning curve and this exchange may be frustrating at first. You have to be comfortable setting boundaries and working with rules, otherwise you become someone else’s free teacher.
  • Your partner will speak the language but may not be able to explain it
  • You give as much as you get, so prepare to work hard

Option Number 2: The super bargain

Look for lessons under $10/hour and take advantage of the low living costs in other countries. Bear in mind these types of prices are below minimum wage in most countries, and probably this includes yours.

Pros:

  • Maybe you will find a great tutor for peanuts

Cons:

  • This is a Trial and Error technique, it takes longer to find someone you click with
  • The cheaper language teachers tend to be those supporting themselves temporarily, so you don’t get ongoing support as most cheap teachers decide to move on to another job within a few months

My personal verdict on this option? It’s better than nothing, but the worst of both worlds.

Option Number 3: The professional

Hire an experienced language tutor for a minimum of $20/hour. Look for someone who is showing their expertise and commitment by having their own website, blogging about their work and knowledge and giving you a clear idea of what lessons will be like.

I’m biased, and here are my Pros:

  • You’ll get a free consultation from most experienced language teachers and they will clearly tell you which goals you are working towards, and keep you committed
  • The lessons tend to be tailored, long-term and built for you
  • You’re doing a great thing because this is the way to support an experienced professional
  • Professional teachers strive towards working full-time for you, so they can offer a flexible schedule and will fit the lesson times around you

For more details on HOW you can find that tutor that's worth your time, here is a list of questions you should ask them.

Cons? Well, we'd all love to get more free things in life.

A Tip for Ethical Teachers

For language teachers who are reading this article and excited about stepping up their business, here’s some important advice:

  1. Be serious and trustworthy: I would not charge a student until I know for sure that I connect with them. I don't take on each one, only students that understand my style. I don't want people to spend money on me unless I feel like I really understand what they need.
  2. Commit to your business: If you don’t want to be seen as some kind of fly-by-night operation, you have to show your worth to your potential student. Be worth their investment, be around and be reliable. You can’t do this without a brand and website, but it’s not as difficult as you may think.

For more information, have a look at the “Teach Languages” section here on Fluent, and in particular you should investigate the Live Lessons Course. This step-by-step course is written for language teachers who are excited to start standing out as one of the best out there.

What’s your opinion on language lessons?

Have you taken part in language exchanges? Do you currently work with a tutor?

I want to hear about your experiences, so please leave me a comment and tell me more about how you’re learning languages yourself.

Motivation Never Ends: Why this Scot is Learning German For Fun

In this guest post, you are going to hear from someone who might be just like you - Alan McGinlay is a 29-year-old Scottish guy living in Glasgow and for the past 18 months he has been learning German again. Yes, again! In his story, Alan talks about what brought him back to German learning and what works when you are reviving a language after more than ten years. You should follow him on Twitter @alanmcginlay.

You'll find interesting thoughts "from the trenches", when a real learner has to counter the issues we've recently discussed here on the blog: group tuition, motivation and looking silly for being the linguist.

 
scot learns german

I’m Alan McGinlay, a 29-year-old Scottish guy living in Glasgow and for the past 18 months I’ve been learning German again. I first studied German at school and I always wanted to take it up again. Now I’ve got all my university and professional exams out the way I finally have the time to give it a proper go!  

I’d love to be fluent one day but my main aim is to keep improving and enjoy it!

Why Learn a Language?

Sometimes people look at me strangely and ask why I am learning a language. My reply to them is always "why not?!"

It surprises people that I’m not learning German for a course, a job or because I’m planning to up sticks and move to Germany.  So why am I then?

The simple answer is because I enjoy it! I find learning a language fun, challenging, it keeps your brain sharp and there’s a great sense of achievement when the hard work starts to pay off.  

I was really pleased the first time I read a tweet in German and didn’t have to think twice about translating it. It also felt great when I checked into a hotel in Hamburg last month and managed to speak entirely in German. 

Everyone will have their own reason for choosing a particular language to learn.  I’m interested in German culture and history and I also studied it at school so it was the natural choice for me.

If you find the right language and motivation it makes the whole experience easier and more enjoyable!

Getting Started

It was a Friday afternoon in January 2013 and I was making my weekly trip back home to Glasgow from working in Lithuania.  An unusual weekly commute! I was working as an accountant at the time and we had a client based in Vilnius that I worked with from November 2012 until March 2013. Unfortunately Glasgow and Vilnius are not that well connected and my journey each week usually involved 3 flights in each direction and a lot of hours in airport departure lounges!

For some reason, that Friday somewhere 30,000 feet off the ground between Helsinki and London I thought it was time I started learning German again. I’d wanted to take up learning the language again and had been putting it off for years. So I decided no more procrastination - this was the perfect time to begin! I felt I should be putting all the hours on planes and in airports to better use than playing games on my phone!

So why did I pick German and not Lithuanian? Although I was working in Vilnius at the time I felt that I was a lot more likely to use German again. I’d enjoyed visiting Germany, Switzerland and Austria previously and really wanted to visit new places in these countries. German is also a useful language for business, with Germany having the largest economy in the EU so I thought I might be able to put my language skills to use at work at some point in the future.  

I’d also enjoyed studying German at school, and it was really important for me to enjoy the process if I was going to keep it going.

I think learning a language is like anything you know is good for you but might be hard work, like exercise or reading a ‘classic’. Taking the first step is always the most difficult part. Since I picked up my first bit of German again last year I haven’t looked back. 

German at School

Gifhorn - Altes Rathaus

img ©misburg3014

I studied German at school, starting when I was 11 and continuing until I sat my Advanced Higher at 17.  The highlight of my final year German at school was an exchange trip to Gifhorn (pictured) in Lower Saxony where I stayed with a host family and spent a week working in a local bookshop.  

While I was in Gifhorn I bought the German language version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and said to myself that one day I would manage to read it from cover to cover!

I used to learn German but I can’t remember the word for….well anything!

The most frustrating part of learning German again was that I’d reached a decent intermediate level by the end of school and I definitely wasn’t there anymore!  I could still decline haben (to have) in a million different tenses but I couldn’t remember the word for a kettle! In other words it was hard to find what level of German I was at and where to begin. 

My Experiences with Tutors and Web Resources

In the end I decided to find a tutor to help me.  I knew I didn’t want to learn in a classroom environment (I tried evening classes a few years ago and they didn’t work for me) but I felt like I needed some guidance.    

I’ve had two native German tutors and I’ve been going to a weekly lesson with my current tutor, Rebecca, for over a year. The benefits of learning one-to-one with a native speaker are amazing. I think I get so much more out of that hour than I did in a three-hour class. We now speak almost entirely in German for the whole hour and that hour of speaking practice is really valuable. I also learn at my pace and we use materials that I’m interested in. I can’t ask for much more than that!   

A personal tutor is by no means the only option though. Before finding a tutor I used a lot of web resources.  

To start with I tested my language level online.  I used a short test that determined which of 5 levels of fluency I was currently at. Using my result result I was able to find a lot of free resources on a number of websites including Deutsche Welle. My advice is to be open-minded and find what works best for you – everyone is different!

I found a basic vocabulary app was great for refreshing my memory on all those words that I’d forgotten. It’s amazing how quickly words I knew before came back to me and ‘relearning’ these at the same time as learning new vocabulary has kept it interesting. The app I use at the moment is called Wortschatz but I’ve also used Duolingo amongst others. 

My Top Tips 

When you’re learning a language it’s great to try and bring that language into your life as often as possible.  Here are a few of the things that I’ve done to help me improve my German:

•    Write in the language. Write about anything and everything and if possible have someone correct it for you.  I’ve found this helps you to think in the language and understand the structure.  It’s really helped with improving my listening and speaking too. 

•    Follow Twitter Feeds. Following twitter feeds has been a great way to see written German everyday. I mainly follow news feeds (Spiegel Online) and can either read the headlines and/or click into articles depending on how much time I have.

•    Watch TV.  My tutor recommended me to watch Boston Legal in German with English subtitles to get me used to hearing German at the speed it is spoken at by native speakers on a regular basis. I enjoy the program so it doesn’t really feel like I’m ‘working’ on my language skills.

•    Read books on an e-reader. I have read a number of books on my Kindle and installing a German dictionary has made it a lot easier and less time consuming to check new words. André Klein has written a good selection of books aimed at learners of German.  You can check out what options are available in your chosen language.   

•    Change voice software to your new language. I have an iPhone and one of the best things I did was to change Siri’s language to German. It’s great for thinking about everyday tasks in your new language and also tests your pronunciation!
 
I hope this post persuades you to try a new language if you’ve been thinking about it for a while.  I’d say there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’m now about a quarter of the way through Harry Potter and it gets easier to read every time I pick it up!

Good Luck / Viel Glück!
Alan

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