Ah, to have the command of a native speaker! To be able to say exactly what you mean, without having to think about what you want to say, and without making mistakes! If only I could be that good, but I never will!
Such is the lament of almost everyone learning a language. No matter how we advance in our learning, no matter how confident we get, whenever we see a native speaker in full flow we’re at once impressed and dismayed. They remind us of how far we have to go, and the gap that, realistically, will always exist between a native speaker and a learner, unless they completely immerse themselves in the language.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. As I’ve said before, native speakers are prone to often-surprising mistakes in their own language. In many cases, these are grammar mistakes, caused partly by the fact that English grammar doesn’t tend to be taught with any degree of rigour in Anglophone countries. The main reason we make mistakes though, is that we acquire our native language first through listening, and then speaking. Reading and writing come much later, and because they require the use of letters, accuracy is crucial to both. And yet, even when we’ve mastered the basics of reading and writing, most of our exposure to language remains aural, and our production of it, oral.
This is why, for example, many people will write your instead of you’re (I actually just typed your instead of you’re: it’s easy to do!); because when we hear someone say You’re great, and your blog is amazing (you get used to it after a while), you don’t see or hear a difference between You’re and your. Added to this, is the fact that we don’t always speak very clearly. My “teacher voice,” for example, is much louder, slower, and clearer than my voice when I’m speaking with other native speakers. Then I mumble, don’t use complete sentences, let words run into each other, and speak quite quickly. The result of this is that we don’t always hear things very clearly, and are particularly prone to mishearing commonly-used multi-word phrases. It’s the same concept behind mishearing song lyrics: the longer the phrase, the more opportunities we have for misunderstanding it. Let’s have a look at some of the most common phrases that people get wrong… Continue reading