Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The difference between talking to a Native and a Learner

As everyone knows, I go to a Dutch language meetup group almost every week.  I've come to notice a trend from a lot a new learners (no matter how long they lived in the Netherlands) that just is not true and I think it is holding them back.

When you speak with a learner of the language, they are sooo obsessed with perfection and not conversation.  They get down to the point to where they do not want to learn the sounds of a word unless it comes from a Dutch person.  Now of course, the Dutch do know best and can pronounce best their own words, but non-natives can also be pretty close.

People want to do everything they can to have a natural Dutch accent and ditch their own accent whenever they are speaking in Dutch.  Well, that's nice, but it is not going to happen.  Face it, you are not Dutch, and one the other hand, why would you want to lose your accent?  That is what makes you, you.

When you are talking to a Dutch person, they obviously know that you are not Dutch (because of your accent or how you word certain things) but guess what?  It doesn't matter!  As long as you can have a conversation and everyone understands one another it's fine and 90% of the Dutch people I've come across would probably agree.  But that is a very hard thing to say to a learner...they will not believe you.

I can understand a bit because yes, why you are first starting, people will always switch to English for one of three reasons:
  1. You don't know enough to have a conversation, or to even communicate an idea or a request.
  2. You can't understand a response.
  3. You show absolutely no confidence while you are talking.
All three of these take time to have a good handle on, and that comes though TALKING and making lots and lots of mistakes (which people of course do not want to do.) "I will speak in Dutch when I am fluent"  Well...it does not work that way!

I think most Dutch people are happy to have a Dutch conversation with you if you can meet the above three criteria.   It will take a lot of work to meet those three things, but it is very rewarding when you make it, trust me.  For me, I can't even get people (that I don't know) to even switch to English anymore.  For example when I'm on the phone with someone for work, I might have to go and explain something in a really round about way to get my point across instead of saying it in only a few words in English.  Because of the conversation that I've already built up with the person and my persistence on continuing to talk they will not switch to English and neither will I.  Now during this time, we both realize that I may be making language mistakes, but guess what?  We are still communicating in Dutch and in the end achieving our goal.  And, each time you go through having to explain things like that in a round about way, it provides a learning opportunity for you to follow-up on either through researching yourself, or asking someone else on how you can improve for the next time.

I wish there was a way for me to better be able to explain all of this to the newbs, but I guess it all just takes time, I know it did for me, I was one of them at one point with a similar thought process.

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