How to Talk Like a Native Speaker Marc Green TEDxHeidelberg

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“Phuong cao nreviewer leonardo silva my story starts in moscow. I was 15 years old old my best friend and i we were part nof. A group of westerners. Visiting soviet union.

This was in 1987. A few years before the fall nof. The communist regime. We were given an official tour guide nwho was assigned to us and the tour would start in the morning and we were checked in nto our hotel rooms for the night.

My friend said to me n let s go outside and look at the city . I thought it was a great idea dumb idea so we grabbed our coats and we snuck out npast security and into the street. We found the entrance to the metro. The moscow underground transportation nsystem is the deepest one in the world.

The ride down the escalator ntook. A full minute once we were down there nmy friend headed right to an open train. And i pulled him back. And said.

Let s write down the name of the station nso. We can find our way back. So i had a notepad and i took a notepad and i wrote down nthe letters of the station and we hopped down the train nand went on train hopping and that was fun because well actually. It was weird.

There were a lot of people nprobably. All coming home from work they were all dressed nin brown and gray clothes and it looked very very different nfrom. What we were used to at home. But the stations were lovely.

There were stations with statues nwith paintings on the wall and glass displays. It was really like museums. We would never have expected that and everything was perfectly clean well. What was weird.

Though is that the people nnobody seemed to speak and everyone seemed to be looking at us nand. It kind of weirded us out so after about 20 30 minutes. We d had enough nand. We wanted to go home.

I showed my note to someone nand. They directed me over there then over there i showed my note nto. Another person and they directed us to the other way and then a third person ndirected us sideways. That was a little confusing aw then i saw it over the stairs.

The sign it turned out. I had written down nthe russian. Word for laughter. So we headed upstairs.

And we found a taxi that was great and we told the driver nyou know and then he was willing to take us and i remember sitting nnext to the driver handing him 50 rubles and he looked at me. And he said russian no dollar laughter. Fifty dollars that was like i don t know n20 times. That amount or something that was not an option for us.

So we had to get out of the taxi and he drove away nleaving us standing. There it was a cold night. And you know everything nwas strange for us and we were teenagers and we were pretty nervous ndidn t know what to do well we started walking we walked to the end of the block..


We turned the corner and 200 yards in front of us nthe intourist hotel laughter well this experience naffected me in two ways the first is that anytime after this trip. Nthat. I would hear anyone speak russian. I was just cringe laughter and the second one is that nit taught me the importance of understanding.

The local language nwhen you re traveling and it actually led to me learning nanother four languages fluently over the following years now before i go on ni. d like to know in the audience can we have a little bit of light nmaybe in the audience. I d just like to know who s by a show of hands nwho is not a native english speaker it. Must be 99 laughter.

Anyone who doesn t speak nenglish stand up laughter alright. So i can assume all of you have you know gone through nthe process of learning a language anybody. Who speaks nthree or more languages wow. That.

s maybe 70 four or more languages anyone. That s still quite a bit. Anyone speak. Five or more languages.

Wow. Come see me during the break laughter to me learning. A language is for me it s like a deck of playing cards nlying faced down on the table as you start learning and understanding nthe cards start opening up for you now. There s no standard way nof classifying this.

But as you learn nyou reach certain milestones and the first one would be nwhen about 25 of the cards are turned up you reach like a basic level at this level. You have a base nvocabulary. Some grammar and you re able to have nmaybe very simple conversations and communicate a little bit and your study goes on until you reach nthis magical point of fluency. What we call being fluent in the language.

Now what does it mean nbeing fluent in a language. It means that you ve turned up nmore than 50 of the cards in the deck. And that is the point. Where you have where the language nbecomes part of your subconscious.

So that even if you don t use it. Anymore. Nfor 10. Years or longer you will not forget it you can get back into it nwithin a very very short time so this is a level where you re ncomfortable thinking in a language and comfortable ncommunicating in a language.

Now some people go on nand. You know reach like a mastery level by that time. You know classic literature nin. The other language and have maybe in depth knowledge.

Nof. Specialized fields. That s often the point taken in academia for me when i learned nmy first foreign language. I had a head start because i was born to a german speaking nmother and an american father now when i was a baby ni.

Didn t really understand that what my parents were speaking to me nwere two separate languages. But by the time. I was two years old ni had figured it all out women speak. Only german laughter.

Men. Only speak english laughter. Imagine the fun..


My parents had nwhen. They introduced me to couples laughter being a bilingual was actually pretty nhelpful in learning. My first language. It definitely helped if you re.

But it also gave me something else it gave me two identities and the ability nto switch between them. When you re a native speaker nof more than one language then your personality your humor nyour value system they change as you switch languages. This can have huge advantages. I mean some studies have shown nan increased problem.

Solving ability or even a higher resistance nto alzheimer s disease. But what i m almost interested in is that it s actually given me na lot of social benefits. When you re a native speaker. Then you feel at home namong.

Native speakers or in a culture. And also native speakers naccept you as one of theirs. Now is this only relevant nto. Native speakers and that s the big question.

But wouldn t it be cool. If a person learning. A foreign language ncould actually develop another identity and actually enjoy the social benefits. Nof.

A native speaker that go beyond communication skills well that s what happened to me. I was able to do that and i want to show you from my experience nhow. I think this can be achieved so if we say this green area here nis the level of the native speaker. The first thing to note is nthat on your way to reaching fluency.

There is not really any shortcut. There are some methods that you can use nsuch as the burrito principle. Where you identify 20 nof. The most effective materials to study.

There are some apps. Nlike stuff for time spaced learning that increase vocabulary retention. They save a little time. But in the end.

There s no way around nworking with the material practicing it until you reach the fluency level. But the second thing to note is that going from fluency to mastery nis a much slower process and it requires nproportionally more effort that s why most people nthey just stop at fluency. They know how to speak nenglish. Good enough and they don t even attempt to venture on and i can understand it but the good news is to get the benefits of a native speaker.

Nat. A native speaker level you don t have to go through mastery nin. The academic sense in fact you can skip nthis step. Altogether.

So if you think about it. There are many native speakers ndo not have an in depth knowledge of specialized fields nor sophisticated vocabulary. So that s not really what is required so how do you do it what is required well i want to give you three areas to focus on when you re learning nand interacting with native speakers. The first is work non eliminating your accent.

I m aware. I said eliminating it should be at least minimizing. It this is in my opinion nthe..


Most overlooked aspect of language learning today. But it s also the most important one to reach what i call a native speaker nlevel or a speaker like level. If you communicate without an accent. Nor almost without an accent this changes how natives behave ntowards you unconsciously and it also gives you an ability nto adapt to a new self image the best way that i ve found the best exercise.

I ve found nto improve your pronunciation is what i call the nperfect sentence technique. What you do is you find na native speaker to help you and you take a book nin. The foreign language. You open it at a random page and you read the first sentence.

Then you ask a native speaker to rate you on obvious accent. Nslight accent. No accent. Then the native speaker nwill read this sentence back to you you have to listen carefully nand.

Then you repeat. And you repeat this process over and over nuntil. The native speaker. Tells you that he can no longer hear an accent nwhen.

You read the sentence. Now i realize it can take na. Very long time even just to get one sentence right. But i promise you if you are persistent nand.

If you patiently work on this you ll be amazed nby. What happens to your accent. The second area to focus on is using verbs nand expressions that locals use now. We all know the situation.

Nthat vocabulary can be region specific like in the us you use in the uk. You that s all good. But sometimes nthe spoken word is so different the speech is so different nfrom. What you get in textbooks that the books are almost useless nif you want to converse with natives.

I want to give you an example in the french language. Nthere are words like. Which is a french person talking to his friend nwould. Probably say.

Which is a completely different word the same for but you ll hear or money is but people say so obviously i m only scratching nthe surface here. But here you actually have to learn all nof these words and expressions. One by one and of course. You have to interact nwith natives to do that but after you reach a critical mass nthat you re comfortable with it ll actually be easier nwhen you encounter.

Something new you ll just pick it up in one go. Nlike. Native speakers. Would who hear words or expressions.

Nthat they didn t know before the third area to work on nis adopting cultural traits what do i mean by that so let me ask you what does this gesture. Mean to you any italians here laughter. Ok now depending non. What culture.

You re from this could. Mean something rude or it could just mean nit s something incredulous like or or it could just be nsignaling food interesting in the middle east. This is just a standard way nof signaling..


So these kind of traits nyou have to internalize and sometimes they re hard to spot. And it takes a lot of active listening. I want to give you a few more examples. So.

Imagine i am with three of my friends. Nan american. A german and a frenchman and like we re walking and maybe nthe american bumps. His head and his initial reaction might be that s how you say it in english.

But the german that you know ngets. I don t know elbowed in the crowd. He would say laughter and the french person nmight step on the nail and say laughter. So this of course nin your target language.

This is something you nhave to observe and also internalize and it has to become part of you if again i m with these three friends nand. I sit with them and let s say i serve them tea and i ask the american n. And if he answers in the affirmative nhe might say and i can ask the german n. He ll say mm hmm.

and then i ask the frenchman n. He ll say laughter so these difference nthey really require active listening so all of these three things nthat. I told you which is pronunciation and colloquial speech nand adopting cultural traits they all require that you interact nwith natives as much as possible ideally you should nfully immerse yourself in the culture. Now if you have the chance to live abroad nfor a while that will be great or maybe live among natives nin your hometown.

Perhaps just have a romantic relationship or even just spend time nyou. Know with co workers so romantic relationships ni could do a whole talk about that laughter that works really well for these things. But yeah. So this will be different nfor everybody of course.

But even when you re not around natives nyour learning must not stop because what you can do nis. You can watch tv shows and films you can mimic the characters you can write down anything nthat. You haven t heard of before and practice that i also want to encourage you nto learn the lyrics of songs songs are really great nbecause. They tell stories and they not only help your npronunciation when you sing them.

But if they re emotional they can anchor these expressions ninto your active vocabulary. And it s like speaking all day and really nusing the expressions unconsciously. It s a great way so music definitely. The other thing.

You need nto move towards native speaker status is the right mindset and a belief that nif you sound like a native express yourself like a native talk like a native and act like a native you ll actually achieve na native like level. So if i could only leave you nwith one thing today. It would be work on your pronunciation. Because pronunciation helps any stage of the learning process.

Even in the very beginning it ll speed up everything. And it also is the key nto reaching a native speaker level or almost native speaker status so before i go i d like to tell you how i was able to novercome my fear of the russian language. It was a very very elegant solution. I married a russian girl laughter and i now have little kids in my home nthat speak russian to me every day laughter.

So i want to thank you applause and before i go i just want to wish you spanish a lot of success nwith your language studies french it was a pleasure nto present for you today hebrew. I wish you lots of success nwith your studies yiddish thank you for listening good luck to you all and russian. Thank you ” ..


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“Marc talked about the process of learning a foreign language and the different levels of fluency. He will show that there is a higher realm of language proficiency and explain what it takes to reach this native point where the benefits far surpass mere communication skills. Marc s passion is the study of languages, their manifestation in local dialects, as well as their expression in poetry and folkloric song. He has acquired a near-native proficiency in six languages and their sub-forms and has given various musical performances. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at”,

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