How do native speakers react when you speak their language?

Over the years I’ve noticed a variety of different reactions from native Chinese speakers to foreigners speaking the language. I’ve written a blog about the three main types of reaction I’ve witnessed, which vary according to the learner’s proficiency: Three Ways Native Speakers React to Chinese Learners – I'm Learning Mandarin

Let me know your experiences speaking your target language.


If you’re pronunciation and accent is really good they won’t make any remarks at all. They’ll just assume you’re a native speaker.

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Thanks for this thread. It looks like a great articles that is written on the basis of Native speakers reaction.

Steve posted a video a few days ago of a very (very) interesting conversation with Stuart Jay Raj who, very near the end, says this:

I’ve no experience with these languages, just passing along what I heard at Polyglot @StuartJayRaj on Learning Tonal Languages - YouTube


I often hear this said but it hasn’t been my experience and I don’t think it makes any sense. People are surprised by things which are rare. I’ve observed reactions of native speaker friends to foreign friends whose pronunication can pass for native but don’t look Chinese. I live in the UK and Chinese native speakers are surprised if they come across anyone who can speak any Chinese. They are even more surprised to encounter people who can speak Chinese with native accents, since this is extremely unusual. I cannot comment on how Chinese people living in China tend to react to native sounding foreigners because I don’t live there. But given the popularity of TV programmes where foreigners are showered with praise and compete against each other for their ability to sound like native Chinese speakers I assume it’s not much different.

I can only comment on Chinese and whilst I find Stuart Jay Raj very insightful there are some things he has said about this which I don’t agree with. He made a video recently looking into videos of American foreigners who go to China town speaking “perfect chinese” and film the shocked reactions of native speakers. Stuart said that if their Chinese really were perfect Chinese people wouldn’t react in a shocked manner. I don’t think that makes any sense. I agree completely that these videos are made by foreigners whose Chinese is clearly not “perfect” and don’t sound native. But my observations of native Chinese speakers in the UK reacting to friends whose accents can pass for native (according to native speakers) suggests that the closer a foreigners accent is to Chinese the more shocked Chinese people’s reactions are.

Perhaps this is different in China. But given the popularity of TV programmes where foreigners are showered with praise and compete against each other for their ability to sound like native Chinese speakers I assume it’s not much different.


The article’s such a great read and honestly very relatable!

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Like this: But we're speaking Japanese! 日本語喋ってるんだけど - YouTube

But in all serious, most are happy to hear me speak Japanese. My Japanese friends, who I’ve never spoken Japanese to in the past, were shocked.


That video is hilarious. The sketch seems to be parodying Japanese people refusing to accept that people who don’t look Japanese can speak the language. But some of the comments seem sceptical about whether this actually happens. I wonder if what’s really happening in many cases is that foreigners are speaking bad Japanese with awkward grammar constructions based on English and then putting the blame on native speakers who genuinely can’t understand them, believing they must be being awkward on purpose. This tends to happen a lot with Chinese learners.

I speak Vietnamese. I used to get lots of “wow, you speak Vietnamese, how did you learn” but after 15+ years of study if I get any comment it’s “are you half,” “is your mom Vietnamese,” etc., but I’m 100% blue eyed Caucasian. I also get “do your parents speak Vietnamese,” or “have you had a blood transfusion with a Vietnamese person?” (lol). However, pronunciation is my strongest area, where I’m weak in grammar and general eloquence/wit. That’s why I struggle in Japanese which is much more complex in terms of grammar. One important factor in sounding native is to pick a regional accent and stick with it. For example, if you speak English like luca lampariello, no matter how perfect your grammar, prose, and pronunciation are, you’ll sound like a foreigner.

I know one Vietnamese guy here in the US who, even after knowing him for years, his English was so good that I always assumed he was born in the US. But, he actually immigrated in his twenties and started learning English after that. So yes, it is possible and it’s one of the reactions people have (no reaction). This sounds like a flex but even with my appearance, 90-95% of people don’t have any reaction to my speaking Vietnamese. The remaining will ask if I’m half, or if I have a long conversation will ask out of curiosity, then be surprised when they find out I’m a student of the language. Granted this is not televised and picked apart by scholars, and Vietnamese people may have a higher percentage of Amer-Asian, mixed race in the population so they’d be less surprised at a native speaker of another race. So maybe it’s more normal than in Chinese. Also I think for Chinese, as with Japanese, there are more foreign students of the language so they may expect anyone of another race speaking it to be as a second language.

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Afaik it’s not the case with Vietnamese.

Thank you for sharing this. In my practice, native speakers have always been sympathetic to situations where I speak a non-native language and make even the most basic mistakes. It is normal for everyone, because cultural identity is a very important aspect of our lives. On the website I constantly read very useful information about cultural identity, especially regarding the linguistic component.

Chinese pronunciation is difficult, so many Chinese people often praise the good pronunciation of first-time learners. It doesn’t take much surprise to make their jaws drop.

Japanese students can write without much problem after studying in China for about 6 months. However, they are often told that they are still not good at speaking.

Really interesting article!

I’m a native English speaker who has studied some Mandarin. I remembered one time in Taiwan when I said a few sentences in Mandarin to the ticket seller at the bus station who had her head down while she was busy with some papers on her counter, and I passed her the money for the ticket, and as she pushed the ticket to me, she looked up and said, "Oh, oh!’ Until she saw me she hadn’t realized that I wasn’t Chinese. I waltzed away from the ticket window feeling likeI had just conquered the whole world. A little victory, a huge ego boost!


In Austria they either respond in English or in some incomprehensible dialect understood by only ten people and a few hundred cows in some valley somewhere.


Thank you :slight_smile:

Thanks! :slight_smile:

When native speakers hear someone speaking their language, it usually elicits one of two reactions. The first is a feeling of happiness and pride. This is because, for many people, speaking the native language is a source of identity. It can be a way to connect with others who share the same culture and history. The second reaction is one of suspicion or mistrust. This is often the case when the speaker is not a native speaker themselves. In some cases, this can lead to accusations of theft or cultural appropriation. However, in most cases, it simply reflects the fact that many people are uncomfortable when they are not in complete control of a situation. Regardless of the reaction, it is always best to err on the side of caution when speaking someone else’s language.

Well written!

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