Learn as a native speaker – understand as a non-native speaker
We wish to enable all our students to learn as a native speaker but at the same time provide them with a non-native speaker type of error analysis. Sounds paradox? Well, it isn’t! Let us explain:
Learning as a native speaker means:
- Thinking in whole phrases, contexts and ideas (and not in single words, vocabulary-lists, grammar-terminations or conjugation charts)
The communication between native speakers is by no means flawless. But still, she is guaranteed, because the overall picture is right. Native speakers make no break in speaking just because they don’t find the right word, or they don’t understand one which was used by their communication partner – they look at the overall meaning of a phrase and carry on with the communication. And just look at that: they understand each other even though a word was missing in the sentence. When a native speaker hears a word, in his mind emerge at once possible combinations, contexts and phrases, in which that specific word would be used. A non-native speaker on the other hand looks at it just as it is: a single word, without connecting it to contexts and embedding it into a situation. Thinking in units of meaning, in phrases and situations and not in singular words: a task that can be achieved even with little language skills!
relay – a native speaker associates it immediately with:
- to relay a news to someone
- running a relay race
- (Text) understanding is the most important thing (and not a grammar-analysis of the phrase during a dialogue)
No one is perfect, no one knows everything. Let’s take native speakers with a very different education or professional background who need to communicate with each other: by no means will their vocabulary be identical, they will not understand each and every single word the other one is using. And there is no need for it, if the overall meaning is clear and one can fill in the blanks based on a certain level of intuition. A native speaker can ignore the parts he didn’t understand, and, in the end, one even realises that those parts were not even that important. Maybe it was a complicated preposition (due to instead of because of), a strange grammar (I look forward to meeting you instead of I hope to meet you soon) or an uncommon conjunction (hence instead of therefore).
The grammar is not the most important part of a conversation, no one cares whether you used the correct past tense, as long as they do understand that you’re talking about something which already took place; no one will be bothered that much by the fact that you used a wrong preposition or you missed a letter when conjugating a verb. I mean, no native speaker will… But if we take a non-native learner, he will most probably stop as soon as he doesn’t understand one word and because of trying to figure out what that means, he’ll miss out on the rest of the phrase. Like this, he won’t be able to understand neither the strange word, nor the overall meaning while a native speaker will be able to do so by just focusing on the important keywords. (the marked ones)
I am unable to come to the meeting today due to my wife’s sickness. I just found out, that there will be another meeting next week, hence we have another opportunity to see each other. I look forward to meeting you next week and wish you a nice evening.
- Recognising the meaning of one word and relating it to another word according to its root (instead of learning tons of separate words in order to understand them)
In German by just knowing 500 words, you’re able to understand 2000 or more – and with a bit of practice also to build them yourself at one point. That’s what native speakers do on a daily basis: they create words by deriving them from others.
- to use / to misuse / to reuse / usual / usable / user / use / usage / misuse / reuse / reusage / disuse
As a non-native speaker in order to be able to learn like a native speaker, you need to have someone besides you who will explain everything to you like to a non-native speaker. What does this mean?
Understanding like a non-native speaker means:
- Understanding the grammar in detail (why is it like that and not the other way around?)
We just mentioned above that a native speaker doesn’t just see scattered, separate words but is always thinking in whole phrases, in structures and ideas. Moreover, a native speaker can ignore the non-important elements of a sentence and still grasp the overall meaning. Well, in order to reach this level, one must learn to recognise grammatical structures and to differentiate what is really important and what isn’t? You didn’t understand a word? Don’t panic and get stuck there, continue listening or reading until the end of the phrase. Maybe it was not even important for the meaning of it. But how do I figure that out? By having someone analysing the grammar together with you in a way a native speaker doesn’t need to.
When encountering such a problem, one probably goes to his native speaker friends and asks them why it’s like that and not the other way? The answer most probably received is: “no idea, it just sounds right!” Well, as a learner, you didn’t get much further with that answer.
- Her headache was due to / because of the wrong size of her helmet.
- What is the correct way to say it? Well, there you need a non-native-like explanation which tells you that the difference is quite subtle, but “due to” is always used after a form of the verb “to be” whereas “because of” is not used after a form of the verb “to be”.
- Her headache was due to the wrong size of her helmet.
- She had a headache because of the wrong size of her helmet.
- Taking words apart, analysing them and understanding their meaning and their root in order to be comfortable in using them or building them yourself (which word does this one come from?)
We mentioned previously that native speakers are very comfortable in playing and using the words of their language. They can immediately recognise the root (which bares the meaning) and build other words starting from there. For a learner to be able to do the same at one point, he first needs to understand this mechanism and the logic behind it: how is it that you can do that? Like this, he won’t need to learn 20 separate words in order to understand them, but just one.
- to use
- to misuse
- to reuse
- the use
- the misuse
- the reuse
- the disuse
- the usage
|(to do something – with a tool – in order to get a result: What kind of soap do you use?)|
|(mis = the wrong way, to misuse = to use something the wrong way, the way it’s not supposed to be used
He misuses this word because he doesn’t understand it correctly.)
|(re = again to reuse = to use something again Don’t throw this cup away, I want to reuse it.)
|(-al makes an adjective: usual = as it is used
Today I had my usual breakfast: cereals with milk.)
|(-able = able to, usable = able to be used
The system can convert waste chemicals into usable energy.)
|(-er = marks a person, user = a person that uses something
Millions of users downloaded this application.)
|(a noun identical to the verb = the fact of doing something Their unnecessary use of force has endangered peace)
|(the fact of misusing something
That was a clear misuse of the word.)
|(the fact of reusing something
Recycling is based on the reuse of waste materials)
|(dis = in a negative way, disuse = a situation in which something is not being used, without use
The old bridge fell into disuse.)
|(the way something is used
There are some major differences between British and American usage of the words.)
- Understanding style differences and in order to choose the right word
Native speakers have a feeling for the(ir own) language, language learners have a dictionary. Sometimes it would be better if they hadn’t one! Why? Well, the problem with a dictionary is, that it gives you too many options for one word. How do you know which one to choose? So most probably you’ll pick the wrong word, use it in your circle of friends in a specific context and you’ll get strange looks followed by a “you can’t say that.” Native speakers choose automatically the right word, but sometimes they cannot explain why it is that specific one and not the other one.
- I acquired some tomatoes and some fresh apples on the market yesterday.
- I purchased some tomatoes and some fresh apples on the market yesterday.
- It’s obviously wrong, any native speaker would say it is:
- I bought some tomatoes and some fresh apples on the market yesterday.
- But would he be able to explain to you that “to buy” is normally used to refer to everyday goods and commodities whereas “to purchase” is considered to be more of a formal term and also has the meaning that one pursued something before he obtained it (example: I cannot purchase perfection) while “to acquire” is a very formal way of saying “to get” something (example: When his uncle died, he acquired his estate.)? Most probably not.
It is not until one understands like a non-native speaker that one can (try to) think like a native one. This makes the language much more natural, alive and accessible.
Languages are alive… they change, they evolve, they are dynamic, unique, interesting and challenging. Languages represent a bridge of comprehension in all human relationships. In a language one finds symbols which need to be interpreted, labyrinths worth mastering not only for the sake of reaching a goal but also for the singularity of the journey.
This is the journey I would like to accompany you on. Are you interested in a mysterious and almost forgotten language of our ancestors, such as Latin? Do you find the unique precision of German fascinating and would like nothing more than mastering it? Or is it the interesting Romanian pronunciation which drew your attention? MnemosYna promises you two things, a successful learning process and an exciting discovery journey of your chosen language.