When you learn a language, no matter what stage you’re at, you often feel inferior to native speakers. Maybe as an English learner, you feel that your pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary could never reach the imagined perfection of someone for whom English is their mother tongue. Additionally, perhaps you feel at a disadvantage while speaking in a social, academic, or work context, being self-conscious that a “natural” speaker would do a better job.
Well, you should put those fears to rest as you have little to worry about. There are many reasons why English learners have an advantage over their native counterparts. Here are just a few.
You sound fantastic
Many people learning English believe that their accent gets in the way of sounding proficient when speaking, even when they are easily understood. One thing that you have to remember is that everyone who speaks English has an accent whatever their proficiency and wherever they are from. I was born and raised in Scotland and I can safely say that I do not have a “typical” English accent.
However, this has never prevented me from getting up in front of a crowded lecture theatre or classroom. My Scottish twang has even attracted positive attention whenever I travel outside of the U.K. There have been several occasions whilst I have been in the U.S. where someone has stopped our conversation and said, “I love your accent.” And you should love yours - it is what makes your English unique. As I often tell my students: “We both have something in common: neither of us sound like the Queen.”
You are a grammar expert
Along with many of my compatriots, I never learned English grammar at school. In fact, I only picked it up whilst training to be an English teacher. Most natives have never learned all the ins-and-outs. You will soon realise that you know much more about the mechanics of the language than even the most eloquent native speaker. If you want a confidence boost, I suggest that you ask the next native speaker you meet to explain what a zero conditional sentence is and in what circumstances it should be used. Most would not be able to answer, even if you showed them the last sentence that I just wrote (a zero conditional of course).
You make conversation with native speakers possible
Having grown up in a country with limited exposure to foreign music and media, I did not have the opportunity to fully develop my learning of the languages I was taught in school. My French was limited to what was said in the classroom, or what I read in out-of-date textbooks, over the four years I studied the subject. In the UK it is estimated that around 60 percent of people cannot speak a language other than English. Therefore in that country, you are more likely to bump into someone who speaks at least one less language than you. This means that because of your hard work and dedication in learning English as a foreign language, you will be able to start, hold, and sustain a conversation with that person which would have otherwise been impossible.
You keep the language fresh
English is a mishmash of Latin, Greek, Norman French, and Old Norse, to name just a few. However, for many years, the language has been relatively stable and bound to the same stylistic clichés used in familiar situations. That’s why I always look forward to conversing with a non-native speaker. They come at the language from a novel angle, unburdened from years of reading and hearing the same expressions time and time again while growing up in an English-heavy media-rich society (and you may have even read a few while perusing this article). Some brilliant turns of phrase I have heard from my non-native students and friends have left me in awe at their creativity and uniqueness. For example, a Bulgarian friend told me that a “bear was playing in the neighbouring garden” when describing trouble in a nearby town, a phrase that I would never have thought of since I had never grown up in a country that played host to that type of animal. So, you should never be afraid to say what is on your mind. You never know; you might invent a new idiom or two.
You will always have a sense of achievement
Every time you learn a new aspect of English and use it effectively, you will often feel a tremendous sense of having reached yet another milestone. As someone who learned (and is still learning) English from birth, I cannot remember the sense of wonder when I took my first steps. I am envious of those learning English now, especially beginners, who have all that to look forward to. Embrace this time while you can still cherish and savour every moment.
The next time you feel inferior, frustrated or pessimistic about being a non-native speaker of English, just remember that you are fantastic, fun, fresh, and a fountain of knowledge - as well as being full of brilliant potential!