How to learn the “real” way to talk

In my last post, I talked about the usefulness of dictionaries, and how they will inevitably struggle to keep up with changing languages.  No language resource will ever be completely current, as, by their nature, they are describing what has already happened, words that have already been used.

I read a great post on Confessions of a Language Addict, that discussed this very issue, along with giving some interesting advice about dealing with differences between spoken and documented language, whether the language is natural or created.

When you’re learning a language, real or made-up, one of the struggles you’re going to face is that no resource is going to be completely accurate, at least not for the time you’re learning it. Study French and you’ll think that “I don’t know” is je ne sais pas, pronounced “zhuh nuh say pah.” But you’re more likely to hear “shay pas.” Orthography hasn’t caught up to speech – and probably won’t. That’s because of the strange byplay between orthography and speech: People will still say “zhuh nuh say pah” for emphasis because when you’re carefully sounding something out, you sound it out as it is written, not as it is transcribed. Likewise in English, “I’m gonna go ta New York tamara” turns into “I am going to go to New York to-morrow” if you’re asked to repeat yourself. So writing isn’t always great for everyday speech, but it’s marvelous if you want to talk to someone as if he is half deaf.

So what can we do?  Well, if you are determined to use a formal version of your target language, I think you’ll be fine to use written resources as they are.  But what if you want to learn to talk to real people?  To be understood by them and speak, as much as possible, as native speakers do?

Don’t take written material as gospel.  Embrace the fact that there will be differences between what you read and what you hear and experience.  Trust that maybe your ears aren’t deceiving you!

Learning from a native speaker is always a great direction to take.  He or she will be able to answer any questions you have about the differences between textbooks and real speech.  In order to really see language at work, though, you have to be able to hear real people speak to each other.  Beginners will often need slower versions of conversations, or breakdowns of examples.  Podcasts are a great way to go, especially if they have some written material to go along with them.  If you can’t get out into an environment where people speak your native language, try audio books or internet radio.  Repeat what you hear.

Dialects and regional usage mean that nobody will ever speak the imaginary ‘real’ language.  This should encourage you!  Listen, repeat what you hear, speak the language, and revel in the fact that people begin to understand you on their terms.