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March 2019

How to Speak and Think Like a Local

Developing Comprehension with Native Speech

Many of us learn new languages in high schools and universities, but what we learn doesn’t often translate well into real-world practice. We discover that speaking fluently and understanding native speakers takes additional practice that academic instruction in our home countries often can’t provide.

Speaking and thinking like a native speaker, however, should be a goal for all language learners seeking fluency. But how can we get closer to this goal without buying a plane ticket and living abroad? Today we’ll look at some tips for achieving native fluency.

Accent accents and dialects

Every language has its fair share of accents and dialects. For the beginner student, they can make comprehension extremely difficult. Even advanced students may have trouble with some stronger dialects, which may even seem like entirely different languages (think Napoletano, the dialect of Naples, compared to standard Italian). Students should make a list of accents and dialects with which they wish to familiarise themselves.

This list could include accents and dialects from regions in your target country you might want to visit. Using the Italian example again, a student of standard Italian in love with Rome might want to study the Roman dialect before visiting. The easiest way to do this is with movies.

Let’s all go to the movies


Watching foreign films is a great resource for language learners. Such films are readily available, and many include subtitles that can help for those with comprehension issues. International streaming services like Netflix are particularly good as they feature foreign films and provide subtitles in many different languages.

One thing every student ought to keep in mind, however, is that movies offer dramatised speech. Most people in real life don’t talk like characters in movies. For more realistic conversation, turn then to educational podcasts.

Listen and learn


Podcasts that feature a panel of native speakers conversing over a topic are a great tool because they feature real-world speech. They are also often free.

Use your mobile operating system’s preferred podcast library to search for the podcast that fits your level and subject interest. Opt for a wide variety of topics if you can. This way, you cover a broader range of vocabulary and speaker types (political pundits often speak differently from sports analysts). Finally, develop a routine in which you can listen to podcasts every day.

Make some friends


While seeking out native speakers in your home town might seem like an obvious solution, there are drawbacks with speaking one on one with native speakers. The most notable is that people tend to speak in a level equivalent to the other, meaning that even if you speak with a native speaker, the native speaker may not speak “natively” with you.

If possible, make friends with a group of native speakers. This way, you’ll be able to hear how two or more native speakers interact. Certainly, this makes conversing more difficult for you, so this is an exercise for more advanced students. While they speak, note the melody in their speech, their mannerisms, and how they use and break grammar rules.

Have you achieved native speaker fluency in your target language? What are your tips? What has made learning difficult? Let us know your results on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language learning!

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