Secrets Revealed: How Native English Speakers Mastered Their Language
Have you ever wanted to speak English with the proficiency of a native speaker? In this blog post, we will unlock the secrets behind English language mastery by native speakers. We will explore how English is acquired and nurtured from childhood to adulthood among native speakers.
Unraveling the Mystery of English Language Mastery
We will discover the techniques and strategies that native English speakers use to master their language from a young age. We will learn how to improve your own English proficiency through these insights. It may help to look at learning language as an unraveling mystery. Different forms of science such as looking at how ecosystems work felt like that to me. I felt like I was learning about a new world and just at the entrance of a magnificent door. How can you frame your English language learning for success? My best students have a great framework for learning language. They know why they want to learn, have clear goals, and celebrate each milestone. Can you do the same? How can you frame learning language in a fun way?
Once you have a great framework, such as viewing learning language as an unfolding mystery; the next thing that can help is chunking. Chunking is a psychological principle that involves breaking a big project into small pieces. For example, if I want to make a cake I could chunk it into pieces by buying the ingredients, mixing the ingredients, baking the cake, and applying the icing. This is particularly useful for large projects such as language acquisition. If we do not chunk it we can become overwhelmed and discouraged and not understand how much progress we are making.
This blog post outlines the stages of growth typical for language acquisition in a native speaker. You can apply these to your own language journey by chunking accordingly.
Section 1: Language Acquisition in Early Childhood
How Native English Speakers Acquire Language in Childhood
In childhood, we all listened to our parents speaking. Whatever is your mother tongue, that is the way you learned. Even if you weren’t raised by your biological parents you learned from whoever was close to you and raised you. This is the core reason why native English speakers tend to have better pronunciation.
The Influence of Environmental Exposure
There is also a tremendous impact of environmental exposure. As we are exposed to things beyond our parents such as the voices of other people, television, media, music, etc. we also learn language and pronunciation through these things. You can mimic this process in later life by exposing yourself to multiple forms of media in the language you are trying to learn. If you are trying to learn English try to listen to English-speaking television, radio, etc., and surround yourself with native English speakers. You can also join a program such as KrisAmerikos to work one on one and in group settings with a native English speaker. The key thing is that the more you expose yourself to correct language the sooner you will start speaking that way.
The Role of Parental Input
The way our parents gave us input about our language has a dramatic impact on the way we learn and the speed at which we learn. We start off by mimicking sounds and facial movements and as we grow older they will correct our English. They also have a pivotal role in encouraging us to learn new words. You can mimic this process by hiring a native English speaker through a company such as KrisAmerikos. You will be able to mimic their speech and ensure all of your pronunciation is correct. You will also have someone on your team to encourage you as you perfect your grammar, learn new vocabulary, etc.
Early Education in Language Acquisition
After young children have been exposed to their parent’s language at home, and received input from the environment as well, such as television, etc. they then generally undergo early education.
Early education can come in the form of daycare, elementary school, etc., or other educational programs. In early education words, conjugation of verbs, etc. are typically presented in a more systematic way. For example, the child might learn all of the letters of the alphabet, 100 new words of animals, how to conjugate 15 verbs in the past tense, etc.
When non-native English speakers learn English they are often exposed to this kind of learning first and only later become comfortable fluently speaking in English. However, for native English speakers, it is the opposite as they grow up hearing the language at home.
Section 2: Developing English Proficiency
Developing English proficiency should be the goal of any new and serious English student.
Stages of English Proficiency Among Native Speakers
There are multiple stages to the development of English proficiency among native speakers, highlighted by aspects and stages such as vocabulary expansion, grammar understanding, and pronunciation refinement. Understanding the stages of proficiency in English among native speakers can help you to develop your own.
Vocabulary Expansion in the English Language
One of the first stages, and an ongoing one, is vocabulary expansion. This is very important because it adds a lot of credibility to your speech. It also means you will be able to use a variety of words according to your specific meaning, and thus be able to understand them when used by others. For example, if you memorize that the word for horse is 'horse' you may not understand when someone uses a word such as 'equestrian,' 'equine,' or 'riding animal.'
In native English speakers vocabulary expansion often occurs as the child is exposed to different media and people. As we discussed earlier, children are typically exposed to broader groups of people as they age. For example, they attend day care and are taken out to more things such as grocery stores and shopping malls, etc. Also, they are exposed to and able to understand a greater variety of media, such as expansive television programs, etc.
You can mimic this in your own English learning by exposing yourself to more and more people and media. For example, is there a program you could join where you will meet more English speakers? By default, you will then learn a greater vocabulary. The key is practice because if you do not continue to use the words until they are very ingrained in your mind you will likely revert to using only the words you are most familiar with.
Grasping the Grammar Rules
Grasping the grammar rules is typically the next stage for the development of English proficiency in native speakers. This typically comes after vocabulary expansion, because we can learn vocabulary expansion through even just hearing and speaking language. For example, we can learn new words through watching 'Peppa Pig' or by hearing our parents speak. Later, when we start to learn written language is typically where we grasp grammar rules. Some suggestions I have for non-native speakers who want to learn English with the proficiency and stages of a native speaker are, when you feel comfortable, start exposing yourself to different mediums, particularly those that use consistent grammar. For example, exposing yourself to Youtube shorts that have a written component, advertising headlines, or newspaper articles. The reason this works is that these will use very repetitive and simple and consistent grammar. Thus, once you have become familiar with, and practiced understanding these, you will be more confident moving on to grasping grammar rules elsewhere.
Pronunciation and Phonetics Refinement
Phonenetics (understanding how speech sounds are made and produced) can be one of the trickiest aspects for non-native speakers. Native speakers often learn, if not always learn, phonetics by watching the speech movements of their parents' lips and hearing the corresponding sounds. For example, they will see how their parents' face moves when they say 'how' and they will mimic this. Eventually, they will say the word themselves. This is the reason a lot of children have 'baby speech' because they are attempting to mimic sounds. Non-native speakers often struggle phonetically because they do not give themselves permission to just watch people speak and experiment with sounds. One thing I recommend is to hone in on particular phonetics you want to memorize, especially those that may be different from your native language. For example, Indian speakers often struggle with the intonation of the English 't' because it does not exist in Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, and other Indian dialects. Therefore, it is a great idea to practice listening to someone speak English words correctly, such as 'the,' 'they,' and 'there.' You can then practice getting these sounds right on your own and then practice them in overall speech. Phonetics is the root and core of correct pronunciation so it is an important place to start, and is often overlooked in English training.
Section 3: Enhancing Listening and Speaking Skills
It is very important and beneficial to develop listening and speaking skills for mastering English. The good news is these skills can be cultivated and improved over time.
Cultivating Listening and Speaking Skills in English
The first step to listening in English is ‘active listening.’ ‘Active listening’ can be distinguished from ‘passive listening.‘ Active listening is where your brain is accurately processing the data. For example, you are listening to a radio broadcast and considering how the program applies to you, whether you agree with what is being said, etc. Unfortunately, it can be very easy to slip into passive listening, which is basically just letting the information drift over us, without processing it, when we are unfamiliar with a new language. The reason for this is that our brain is straining to understand the language and so it is easier to let it go by. Unfortunately, this can stump a lot of people in their language learning progress because they are attending classes, etc. but not absorbing the language, learning new vocabulary and intonation, etc. because they are not processing it, only listening passively. What I recommend is to find ways to engage with the program you are listening to, or the person or class. I also recommend engaging with the material and a degree of English complexity that is at your level or slightly beyond. For example, if you listen to a complicated news broadcast about the origins of a war but have only an elementary level of comprehension you will probably not do yourself any favors in terms of avoiding passive listening. Passive listening is basically a form of non-engagement because of strain on the brain from the language is too difficult or just the brain conserving energy and attention in general. In our classes with KrisAmerikos, we feel that active listening and participation is very important. We do this by engaging the students at their level to discuss topics in relation to their life. For example, if my topic for the class is ‘weather’ I will ask students, ‘what is your favorite type of weather?’ ‘what do you do when the weather gets too wet?’ etc. This forces active listening, because you cannot come up with an accurate reply if you are only listening passively.
Some ways to practice this in your own life are to write down questions when listening to a news broadcast etc. The act of physically writing them down will mean you are engaged. You can then answer the questions out loud, in written form, or with a friend. You can also join a program such as KrisAmerikos where you can engage with others, and participate in regular breakout sessions to discuss your favorite topics in English. Again, the key is engagement. If you are engaged, actively listening to others, asking questions, and responding then it is impossible to be listening passively.
One good way to practice speaking skills in English is to listen to a native English speaker speak and then repeat outloud to make sure you have the phonetics, pronunciation, and sentence flow correct. The important thing is to ensure you are saying the words and speech like a native English speaker. You can do this by listening to media such as a Youtube video, pausing it after each sentence, and repeating it out loud to yourself. Participating in a program such as KrisAmerikos is also a great way to do this because you can have your language corrected by a native speaker. Remember, just like with comprehension, the more you are exposed to, as long as you are actively engaged; the better your speaking will become.
Techniques for Better Listening
Some further techniques for better listening are to listen to the phrasing of sentences. This is an area where I often see my students make mistakes. For example, they will memorize vocabulary words and conjugation of verbs, use of adverts, etc. correctly but when they speak it gives the impression that they do not really understand, or are not engaged with, what they are saying. They will often speak in run-on sentences or not give proper pauses, inanition, and stress, to the correct words. Some techniques that can help to correct this, are first listening to correct phrasing of English. You may want to switch your video speed to 10x slower than normal. Notice where native English speakers pause and exaggerate. Through using this listening technique you can then mimic this speech on your own.
You may also benefit by listening to English debates, comedy, etc. Again, the key to this technique is to listen to where native English speakers stress words, exaggerate sounds, and make larger focus in their sentences. This will also improve your written English because you will learn the natural flow of a sentence and thus have a better understanding of where to use semicolons, colons, etc.
Strategies to Improve Speaking English
Some further techniques for better listening are to practice each phonetic at a time. If you google ‘phonetics’ or join an elementary English program you can easily find this. It is so important to get the basics right before moving on. I come from Toronto, a city in Canada, which has more immigrants than any other place in the world! This is great because it gives us a lot of exposure to different food, culture, etc. It also allowed me to hear people from a variety of cultures learning English. I can‘t stress enough how often I would hear someone who was basically proficient in English, even working at a bank etc. but still had one or two phonetics wrong. This really took away from their overall credibility in English, and it means that they were practicing that phonetic wrong all along. At KrisAmerikos we stress speaking because it is so important to get this right.
One speaking technique to help you with phonetics is tongue twisters, for example ‘the troubled tiger thought truthfully.’ Saying this fast, especially with a phonetic you struggle with or that is not common in your language, for example, the English ‘d’ in Indian languages, can really help.
I also highly recommend joining a group or class where there is a focus on speaking English. It is so important to learn the natural flow of a sentence, paragraph, and idea in English; in order to be taken seriously in the language. Remember, speak, speak, speak, and especially speak like a native speaker and in groups that include native speakers, and you will get better.
Section 4: Mastering Reading and Writing Skills
Mastering reading and writing skills is an essential step for any new English student.
Developing Reading and Writing Skills in English
Reading and writing skills are developed among native English speakers in a similar way to other stages of English proficiency. As recapped earlier, the child typically begins with hearing oral speech from their parents and caregivers and imitating this phonetically. Then, they are then exposed to a greater array of speech and learn new vocabulary; as they are exposed to a greater variety of people and mediums. After learning listening and speaking the child typically moves on to reading and writing. This is why we emphasize speaking skills and active listening at KrisAmerikos; because if you master spoken English this will naturally come through as better phrasing, and better overall writing, in your written skills.
The Journey of Becoming a Fluent Reader
Remember that becoming a fluent reader is a journey and not something that becomes perfect overnight! Give yourself the praise you deserve and always reward small milestones. One way that native English speakers often develop proficiency in reading is through picture books and pictographics. For example, I am learning Portuguese right now as a fourth language and it really helps me to read picture books with my upstair’s neighbor’s son Yohan who is three, and learning Portuguese as a native language. When we are learning language and associating with pictures it really helps us. This is true even for native speakers, for example many countries, if not all countries, associate pictures with traffic signs such as green for go and a red hexagon with the word ’stop’ for ’stop.’ This is because the brain naturally associates and memorizes better, and sorts better, information when it is associated with pictures.
I recommend first starting with simple pictures and their associations to words. For example, if you google ’ESL lessons for beginners,’ you will see that the teachers use a variety of pictures, infographics, and other props. For example, they will hold up a picture of ice cream and say ’ice cream’ to help teach the meaning. If you learn like this you will have early wins which will help you associate positivity with learning English and want to continue.
I then suggest that you move on to other image-centric forms of media such as a repetitive news broadcast where you can see common images paired with words. This repetition will be helpful. You can also check out Youtube for content such as ’Disneyland tour,’ or ’best food at Disneyland.’ The repetitive content ( a lot of the same words will be used such as fork, price, dumpling, etc.) will help you to build confidence and accurately learn the language. If you move too quickly into words and language that is not image-centric you will revert back to passive listening as we discussed earlier.
Only once you are very confident at this level, do I recommend you move on to reading English that is not image-centric such as essays, long written words, etc.
Techniques to Improve Writing Skills in English
The final step of English comprehension and fluency is writing English. Again, it is so important to follow the steps described earlier so that by the point you get to written English you will be very well set up to not only be confident in beginning written English but also be well set up to be a good English writer. People who are ineffective at speaking English, do not understand correct phonetics and sentence phrasing, etc. are typically very poor writers. This is why children who learn English natively through listening to their mothers etc., experimenting phonetically, and then only later move on to reading and writing English tend to have no problem writing English effectively.
Try to apply the best practices you learned from engaging with other English content. You want to keep your writing dynamic by using a lot of the vocabulary you learned from correctly listening to, speaking, and reading English. Also, it is very important to write in a way that mimics natural speech. Using correct grammar such as colons, commas, and semicolons will help with this. Your written sentences should mimic the natural phrasing and pausing of a native speaker. The only way to effectively learn this is through writing English after you have heard the correct native speech.
Some techniques to help you with correctly writing English are to start with words and then associate them with pictures etc. You can even make your own picture book and move on to phrases, full written sentences, etc. I highly recommend having a native English speaker check your work. One of the common mistakes I see is with conjunctions. Non-native speakers will often incorrectly use conjunctions such as can’t etc. It can also help to experiment with writing in a variety of forms such as poetry, comedy, Haiku, etc.
The more you find ways of writing English you enjoy the faster you are to expand. For example, someone who enjoys dodgeball is likely to get much more fit over time versus someone who does not enjoy any type of exercise.
In conclusion, let us recap what we have learned and map a path forward. Firstly, understanding the natural stages of development for a native speaker can help you to mimic and follow this in your life as well. You may even be interested to learn more about early childhood development and language acquisition. You can then apply this to your own progress. Having a sense of what stage lies ahead will give you a sense of confidence as you move through the stages.
The Path to English Mastery: A Recap
Also, it is important to notice that even for native speakers learning a language doesn’t happen overnight. Native speakers learned in stages and had positive role models around them constantly encouraging them for small milestones. Just as we celebrate a baby’s first steps, we also celebrate their acquisition of language through associating positive variables. The child learns that it is fun to keep speaking well before they understand a practical meaning to why language acquisition is important
You can do the same in your own life through rewarding yourself for early growth.