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Open Letter to Native Speakers

By Gaby Van Horn

Dear Native Speaker,

As a language learner, I need your help. I’m not a child. I’m not a beginner. So what I need from you may be very different from what you were expecting.

Please don’t speak like you just had a stroke

Yes, I am learning, so you may need to speak slower than you would to your friend. You… don’t… have… to… pause… after… every… word. Ahh! It confuses me so much. Please speak normally using your hands and facial expressions to give me some clues. I will get most of what you said and will ask a question if I don’t understand.

If I do ask you a question…

Please don’t switch to my language to “help” me

This may help me learn the word at the moment, but 5 minutes later I will forget it. Concentrating on another language takes a lot of energy and focus. If you switch gears, it will take me a moment to do the same, and even longer to switch back.

Think of our conversation as a game. If we’re playing American football and I ask you to clarify one of the rules, would you start playing soccer? No way! You would slow down and explain the rule to me using simpler words until I got it and we could continue playing. You are a native speaker and I’m learning your language, so playing with ‘your rules’ will only benefit me.

When you do answer my questions, please…

Fix your face

Don’t look at me like I’ve said something funny. Something that is easy for you may be totally new to me. Have some empathy. I asked you because I want to learn and avoid any misunderstandings.

If I make a mistake, don’t laugh at me or make a face. It took a lot of courage for me to say anything. So, please…

Correct me respectfully

You can show you’re listening and ask me a question. ‘You said that, do you mean this?’ or ‘Could you repeat that? I didn’t understand.’ It gives me a chance to self-correct. I will also remember the mistake and be less likely to repeat it.

Finally, if I did a good job, it’d be great if you could…

Commend me specifically!

Good job’ won’t help me long term. What did I do well? Was my grammar ok? Did I use a slang word correctly? Was my pronunciation good? Has my reading gotten better? Tell me, so I can do more of it.

Just be a good friend. Listen. Challenge me.  Be respectful. Praise and polish. I love you but please use some common sense 🙂

Sincerely your friend,

A frustrated language learner

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