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How do native English speakers truly feel when talking with non-native speakers?

Somebody asked on a question and answer site, Quora:

“How do native speakers truly feel when talking with non native speakers?”

This was an interesting question.

But more interesting were the responses.

You see, there were of them.

Interested in what these people had to say, and importantly what their attitude towards this particular question might be I went through every response, downloading them all, and loading them into my qualitative data analysis software.

I then spent an entire day doing some pretty thorough analysis of these responses.

Yes… a bit over the top, know.

What came out of it was quite interesting (enough so that I plan to write the results up as a research paper).

The Good News

The vast majority were quite positive.

People said that they really enjoy talking to people from other countries and other cultures. It allows them to talk about other ways of life, and experience that via those people and their stories. A whole different way of life. They are fascinated, many said, by your home country, your cultures, and the different way you see the world.

And the Bad News

However, at the same time, many of those same people also said that it was important to them that you were able to have a decent conversation with them. It’s not that they were bothered about your mistakes or grammar or using the wrong words or anything like that. Or even really the speed at which you speak. Your fluency. Or really any of the things that non-native speakers tend to worry about.

Rather, what most people were concerned with was the depth and the quality of the conversation.

They didn’t like being stuck in conversations that were too shallow.

Too surface level.

They wanted to really get deep into the topics and to be able to go further than just surface level stuff. If this is a problem for you, check: how to speak English very well.

But that’s not all

There was another very interesting finding that came out of this analysis.

Although I’ve already said that these native speakers weren’t really bothered about your mistakes, using the wrong word, or the wrong grammar, or anyway like that…. there was a slight caveat here.

You see, although they’re not bothered about your mistakes…

It was very important for them to be able to understand you easily.

First and foremost, people said they felt tired when they had to work hard to try to understand what you are saying. And that ruined the enjoyment of the conversation. But also, many people said that they felt too embarrassed to ask you to repeat things and they felt stupid themselves when they couldn’t understand you.

What this means

Many people worry about making mistakes because they think if they use the wrong word people would look at them as if they are stupid. But actually, it was the other way around.

The native speakers themselves felt inadequate like they were unable to understand you and unable to aid you in the conversation.

So what really comes out of this is that native speakers don’t care about your mistakes and things as much as you think they do (yet another reason why attitude is so important).

However, in order for a conversation to be a good one…

Iit is important to them that you are able to do it at a high level, to be able to go deep into a topic, and to able to explain your points clearly and in a way people can easily understand.

Or to put it another way, they don’t want to have to work hard to have the conversation with you. Because that just ruins the enjoyment and makes them feel inadequate.

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Best,
Julian

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