Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. Today, I’m happy to invite a guest to the Show to share with you a conversation about speaking like a native.

Hey, hey, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us again. So, you already know me and you know that I love talking about this whole concept of learning. So more than just teaching English, I love talking about the process of teaching English. And I love talking about mindset and false beliefs because they think it’s a huge part of the work that we do.

And part of what I love talking about is this notion of to speak like a native. And while I know that it serves a lot of people, and a lot of people use it as motivation, sometimes it can be very inhibiting, too. And in most cases, people don’t even know that it’s inhibiting them. I have a full episode about that, that I’m going to link to in the show notes.

But today I wanted to share that conversation with a friend of mine, his name is Will. And he is an American pronunciation coach. He is an excellent coach, and he’s very passionate about what he does, and he’s very passionate about his students. So, it was lovely to have that conversation with him, even though him and I, we didn’t see eye to eye about this.

So, it was like a raw and vulnerable conversation about this topic, and we kept challenging each other. And I wanted to share that conversation with you as well here. Because first of all, maybe you haven’t seen it. But other than that, I think it would be something nice to listen to. And once you’re done listening, I invite you to come on over and send me a message, and tell me what you think – on Instagram. If you enjoyed it, if you resented it, if you agree, if you disagree with me or with Will – I would love to hear what you have to say. I’ll also link to the original video so you can see some of the comments there. Okay. So are you ready? Let’s dive in into this important conversation.

Hadar: Okay.  So, please welcome Will from @SimpleAmericanAccent.

Hadar: Hey, how are you doing?

Will: Good. How are you? Thanks for having me on. This is awesome.

Hadar: It is awesome. Sorry for taking so long before bringing you on.

Will: Don’t worry, it’s good to give context. So, it’s all good.

Hadar: Will, so what time is it for you right now?

Will: It is 10:30 in the morning.

Hadar: Okay. When did you wake up?

Will: Hour and a half ago, earlier than normal.

Hadar: How do I know that? Because usually Will is up when it’s like my morning, right, or even midday. And I know that for you it’s like the middle of the night.

Will: Exactly. We have a lot of late-night conversations on my end. Yeah.

Hadar: Right. And for me it’s like the middle of the day. And I’m like, “Wait, I can’t answer now. I’m like in the middle of work, I have meetings.” And then I’m like, “but I have to answer you.”

Yeah. So, I know that you are a night owl, if I can say that.

So Will, tell us a little bit about yourself. A lot of people watching this are your fans and they come from your account, but some people might not know you just yet. So why don’t you just quickly introduce yourself?

Will: For sure. So, I’m a white dude from Iowa, in the United States, who, when I was like 10, 11, 12 years old, even though there weren’t many people in my city, you know, 20,000 people in Iowa who spoke other languages, for some reason, I started getting really curious about foreign language and wanting to just dive as deep as I could. And, included in that, for whatever reason, I wanted to become a native speaker. Become a native speaker – which we could question that goal, we could explore what does that even mean, all this stuff.

But for me, that was so exciting. It was like, what are the limits of language learning? Could I, despite being a 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, however old I am in the future, how deep could I go? Like, could I in a conversation with native speakers in a group, in a community, could I fool them? Could I be so good at the language, in quotes, right? So this is starting at like 10, 11, 12 years old.

Yeah. Cause I think the beginning of it, weirdly enough, I was playing the video game the Sims, and I heard them speaking Simlish, the made-up language. I didn’t know what it was though. And was curious, I wanted to know what they were saying. I wanted to be part of it, you know, understand them.

So I asked my uncle, who’s babysitting me, he’s like half asleep, “Hey, what language is that? And he kind of half wakes up, he’s like, “I don’t know, Dutch.” He just makes something up. So I go to the library with my parents next week…

Hadar: Let me go back to sleep, right?

Will: Yeah. He just made something up so he could sleep…

Hadar: So, just a little bit of context: before that there is no like second language, language learning in school. Like, you were never taught…

Will: Not at this point.

Hadar: Not at this point, ok.

Will: Nothing, this is all independent. Yeah. So, in my city, you don’t start learning any second language until high school. And then it’s required, and people hate it, and it’s not done very well, honestly. People usually don’t have good outcomes from it. And the worst of all, not only did they not end up speaking the language well, they end up having a really bad relationship with it.

They feel like, “Oh, I suck at foreign languages. I hate it. I’m no good.” So that’s, that’s the system I was going to be going into, but thank God, I found this other path before that system grabbed hold of me. So I had this, this little spark of interest, and it didn’t get smothered out. I found my own pathways through going to the library, renting free materials because my internet was bad. Eventually getting, you know, DVDs and things, and just building little by little this curiosity for foreign language. Spanish was the first one I really went deep in.

Hadar: What was your parents’ response to you dragging them to the library – “I want to learn languages”?

Will: They have fortunately been very supportive. If anything, I’ve almost like steamrolled over them at certain times. But some of what I did, arguably, could be even seen as like problematic or messed up in some way, as far as how rigorously at the beginning I wanted to become like a native speaker. Because that led me to sort of being exclusive or like being… puristic or, I don’t know what word I want to throw out there. But like, when I was learning in these beginning stages, I was very intentionally listening only to native speakers. So you see where this could get interesting.

I was avoiding listening to non-native speakers cause in my mind at that time – and maybe there’s some truth to this, maybe not, so we could explore that – but at the time, I thought it’s going to be like, I don’t like to use this expression, but it’s a common one – garbage in, garbage out, you are what you eat, these kinds of things. Like, whatever I consumed, I just figured my mind isn’t going to be able to differentiate and tag what is one thing and what is the other. So if my goal is to speak like a certain kind of person, I should listen to that kind of person as much as possible. That was my logic at the time.

Hadar: Just a second. I’m taking notes.

Will: Yeah. Go ahead.

Hadar: I have something to say about that.

Will: Please do. Cause I know that’s a tricky area.

Hadar: Yeah. Also, let’s not forget that, you know, your internet was bad, so your role model for non-native speakers speaking a certain language were very particular. So your assumption, right now, like, you know, cause maybe what has determined this experience that you have around, you know, teachers who are non-native speakers, which you… you have had this certain experience that was not positive, right?

Like, you were exposed to teachers who were not good teachers. And as a result, you know, right now like, you say, “Okay, these are not the people that I want to listen to if I really want to improve.” Okay? And again, like, I want you to be as honest as possible, because what you are saying is like a true reflection. And there is truth in it, right? We have teachers who might not be good teachers, and like native – non-native, but obviously, it’s more problematic.

So, I really want to explore it because what you’re saying now is like the general bias that exists among everyone. And we need to address that. And we need to like also say, “Yeah, there is a good reason for that, but also, let’s understand that it’s a bias and if it’s subconscious, let’s see how it’s not affecting our choices”.

So, great. So up until then you said, “I just want to listen to native speakers.” You were listening to Spanish, right? And of course, in the US it’s easier, you have more access to Spanish speakers I’m assuming.

Will: So, I still didn’t, in-person. But my internet was getting better. So, around this time, it’s still pre- high school, so I’m like, let’s say 13, 14 years old, I’m going deeper into Spanish at this point. Somewhere in here, I started adding in Portuguese on the side and like, messing around with other languages. Like, I’d played soccer a lot and I’d meet, like, there was some like Japanese foreign exchange students, so I’d learned a couple of words to try to like impress them and hang out and stuff. But it was, Spanish was by far, that was the one I was going to deepest in.

And it was, yeah, like, somewhere in here, maybe getting into high school, I was like getting online and Skyping with people from Columbia and different places too. So that was how I got access to native speakers. Or the occasional, I go to like McDonald’s and there’d be someone from out of town, visiting, and I’d be like, “Oh my God, I have to talk to them.” And then I wouldn’t and then I’d regret it, and then the next time I would. And I started learning to talk to strangers also because of how much I wanted to… Anyway…

Hadar: Would you consider yourself to be an introvert or an extrovert?

Will: By nature, by my like, conditioning, from how I was raised and how I used to be as a kid, I would consider myself pretty shy, maybe call myself an introvert. But I’ve sort of trained myself into extroversion, I’d say. Like, I love talking to strangers now. I’ve put thousands and thousands of hours into it, actually, very intentionally. I guess you could say expanded my range on that. I love both.

Hadar: Ok, I’m sure a lot of people are asking themselves, “What languages do you speak?”

Will: Sure. So, there’s a range for each one. So I don’t want to be like, “Oh, I speak this number.” It’s not that clear, right? But English as a native, Spanish and Portuguese for sure – super good in both. Spanish is kind of rusty now, actually, ironically, even though I went so deep in it. The last two years with my profile here on Instagram, I’ve been focusing on helping Brazilians. So I speak tons of Portuguese every day. And almost no Spanish for two years. So it’s been actually really weird to see how that affects me. And that’s a whole other thing.

But then, beyond Spanish and Portuguese, there’s a little bit of Italian, Dutch, and Russian to varying degrees. I can have a kind of a shitty conversation in Dutch, where like, if it’s one-on-one, they’ll probably want to switch to English at some point, but I can like exchange information. And I have a good base in Italian and Russian. I know like a word or a phrase or something, like a very little bit in Hebrew, which I sent to you once over a voice message. And like little bits and pieces of many languages like that.

Hadar: It was really good.

Will: Thank you.

Hadar: Ok, so you catch like phrases, sentences, and you store it in an accessible place. So you’d be like, ” I’ve learned many words in many different languages, but it’s not stored for me in accessible places. So it’s hard for me to retrieve it, even though it’s very basic.”

Will: Part of that is probably driven, and we could probably tie this in to me wanting to sound like a native speaker. There’s probably some level of what my personality, or what I want, almost like an escapism or just like the sense of adventure, or we could call it whatever we want.

But like, it’s very tied into me with talking with strangers, like finding myself in a room with people who are from country X, could be any random country. And I have this natural desire in me that I want to fit in, I want to participate. I want to join in the party that’s already going. I want to say something that will like light them up and add energy. And there’s something about that.

So for me, like literally, my phone, I have recordings of times that I’ve been speaking with a stranger, and they speak Farsi or some language that I don’t know. And I’m like, “Oh cool, that’s amazing. Let’s learn, like, “How do you say ‘blah, blah, blah’? And do you mind if I record you?” And I’ll literally pull out my phone and ask them to say it, I’ll record it and label it with what it is.

Hadar: Yeah.

Will: And then the next time I meet someone who speaks Farsi, if I want, I can like go to the corner, pull out my phone and be like, what was it? And then be like, blah, blah, blah, I can say it in the next conversation. And I’ve got this little bit of…

Hadar: Which is incredible! Yeah. I think it’s incredible to be able to have communication so accessible to you, right? Like that idea that you can, you know, just also the freedom, no judgment, and the permission that you have for yourself to copy-paste, like we do, right? Like you copy text and you paste it, that’s very easy for a lot of people with no one second guesses themselves. But when it comes to hearing something and then saying something, oh, you know, then the trouble comes.

Whereas, if we think about it, physically speaking, right, like how we are born, we’re able to pronounce any sound, any tone. Right? So technically speaking, I mean, I know it’s impossible – well, everything’s possible – but I know it’s challenging. But technically speaking, you can copy-paste speeches and utterances the same way you copy-paste texts.

Will: I love that.

Hadar: But some things get in the way and we are, our work, as speech coaches is to discover what that is and to give easier access from what’s here, going through the head, going through the brain, going through the psyche, and then coming out. So, responding, amazing, I think it’s a great tool and having that ability of not caring so much, you know, or giving yourself the permission to do that is incredible. And I wish more people would do that, not just in English, in any language, because it is so accessible to all of us, especially now with the internet.

Now, the thing is, I have a couple of questions. So, one is, have you ever had another really powerful passion, hobby, something as a kid that you were really like going deep into other than languages?

Will: Many, many, many, many. Yeah. I mean, actually, around the time I started with language, 10-11-12, I became this just serial… whatever you want to call it – like one skill after the other. I basically stopped watching TV, unless it was in a foreign language. And my time was put into, let’s learn to do origami; now let’s learn do magic tricks; now let’s learn to skateboard; now let’s learn to juggle; now let’s just like… actually, a pretty absurd amount of things, way more than is typical.

Hadar: And did you always have that need to get to a level of, you know, to become an expert in each thing, or it was just more of a sense of exploration?

Will: A little bit of both. It doesn’t have to be like world-class expert, but often there’d be some sort of  some point where I’d want to get like a foothold in it, where I could say to myself, like I did it, like I learned how to ollie on a skateboard, or I learned how to kick flip; or I learned how to fold a crane in origami, you know. There’s sort of these little benchmarks or milestones that are to someone else who does that, it’s like this recognizable step. And that was satisfying to me.

I’d obsess to get to that sort of sense of mastery, like I got some real meaningful sense of progress in that area. And then based on whether I enjoyed it, I’d either keep going deeper or I’d switch to something else. It’s pretty flexible.

Hadar: So, it’s interesting , the reason why I’m curious about those things is to see, you know, how much does this relate to who you are as a person and setting those goals, whether they’re attainable or unattainable, you know, for the sake of pushing yourself and doing something in a way, maybe there is like the aspect of perfectionism that goes into it. Like, if I’m doing it, I might as well do it like perfectly, this is where it sits for most people who learn a second language. Right?

Whereas for you, that was a motivator and not an inhibitor, right? Like for you, that sense of perfection from what I’m experiencing, which is a little bit, you know, my thing too. So, I totally feel ya in that sense.

Will: Yeah, it has inhibited, but I think I learned how to dance with that from all the different skills I did. I learned to be okay with the imperfection as a beginner and to not just let my progress die because of that, you know, I can’t do it the way I dream of, so I’m going to quit. I learned to like, be skilled at being a beginner in a way. And that sense of like, “Oh, I suck at this” was something I loved. I reframed that pretty early on, or I wouldn’t have been able to keep doing this.

Hadar:  I think so too.  I think that the only way for you to get to a level where you reach that level was to be able to mess up a lot along the way, right? And for that, you need to be able to let go of perfectionism.

Will: I enjoy the mistakes. Not always, but that was one of the key things, like mistakes. I actually started reframing the emotional experience of making a so-called mistake, became something very different for me than it is for a lot of people.

Hadar: And I think that your journey with other languages, this is why I’m digging in is because it’s a lot of people here watching are experiencing. You said that, like an another thing that triggered my interest is that you said that when I was speaking to people, I wanted… I can’t remember what exactly you said, but like something along the lines of, you know, I really wanted to sound like them or to fit in or so they don’t see…

Will: Yeah, be part of the group, fit in, impress them, all these different things…

Hadar: Right. But if we’re thinking about it, logically, let’s not even talk about languages. Let’s talk about, you know, high school. And we know that there’s like the group of the popular – kids that are popular, and there is the people who are less popular and they want to fit in. Right? So they might change their traits or change something about what they love or pretend to be someone who they’re not just to fit in. Right?

And you and I can both look at that and say, “Yeah, it’s something that happens as kids. I did it”, you know, like we do it as adults. But do we say this is a good thing, like we need to encourage that, or should we say, “Wait, does it really serve you as a human being, and with expressing who you are and feeling authentic a hundred percent of the time?”

Will: And that’s deeply connected to what we’re talking about today. So, I just think it’s a really interesting area. I think it’s good to explore both extremes and then play with it, and find where each of us sits with that in our own life. Because I think there is value, like part of myself identity is for sure, built around loving that flexibility.

I trust that there’s a deeper me that is unchanging in some way. But I’m willing to take sort of deeper cuts with what a lot of other people attach their identity to in terms of accent or movements or personality even. I view a lot of that is more honestly, in my case, superficial, and something that is fair game to play with and paint with and experiment with. I’m okay with changing my accent radically, I’m okay with behaving differently, depending on who I’m with, the audience, the situation sometimes pretty significantly – feeling like I’m a different person when I speak a different language or when I’m with a different group of people.

I trust there’s still a deeper me and there’s certain boundaries that I don’t cross. That’s the balance. Right? There’s certain parts where it’s like, “No, I just don’t do that. I’m not part of this”. But, with that said, I really value that ability, like that’s something I pride myself on, the ability to walk into a room and to, you know, if they’re playing salsa music, I don’t want to start trying to, you know, do some ballet dancing or something just because it’s like, that’s what I do.

Again, there’s nuance here, but to some extent I want to join in with the flow. I want to meet people where they’re at. And then from there, maybe we dance to somewhere else together or something, but I love that idea of empathy meeting people where they’re at. That’s a phrase I come back to a lot – meeting people where they’re at.

Hadar: Which I absolutely love. But even if we’re talking about salsa versus ballet and comparing it to languages, it would be like, “Okay, I enter a room where people speak English and I start speaking Hebrew.” And I’m like, “Why aren’t you listening to me?” So, of course, you wouldn’t want to start dancing ballet, but the fear is that “I wouldn’t start dancing at all because I’m afraid that my salsa moves are going to be awkward”, which they are, by the way.

Yet, I would want to have the confidence to walk into that room and be like, “Oh, F’ it. I’m going to dance because I feel like dancing right now.” Right?

Will: Totally.

Hadar: So, that would be like speaking English, but not, you know, like a professional dancer, but being like, you know, I danced for myself. And it’s not a competition, so it’s okay for me to show up with my awkward, awkward moves. And listen, like you and I both are in the same place, cause I think that we both had this transformation from obsession and perfectionism.

And even though you said “I’m happy with mistakes”, I think even to that extent, like we can say, there was a time – correct me if I’m wrong, but that was for me – that whenever someone spotted a mistake, or I noticed a mistake, I wasn’t happy about it. I was just like, “Ugh!”, you know.

Will: Sure.

Hadar: Yeah. Like for you in Brazilian Portuguese or in Spanish, the languages that you really, really kind of like own. And then there is that next stage where you are already okay with the mistakes. But it has to go through that process of a lot of internal conversation with yourself about what it means, you know. And I think that, that it’s more of an internal transformation rather than it has nothing to do with the English, like you said,

Will: Yes.

Hadar:  “I’ve come to a place where I’m okay with making mistakes or feeling like I can change my accent and it doesn’t change who I am.” Right? I think, like you said that, and I totally relate to that.

Question is, I think that this transformation is something that happens. But what happens when we step into the role of teachers, right? Like what is our obligation and responsibility as teachers in communicating that rather than trying to get people to necessarily go through our experience, if they don’t have all the circumstances or the tools to do that? Is that clear? Does that make sense?

Will: It’s getting there, yeah. So, just because we add a certain experience, doesn’t mean a particular person will have the same experience nor that they even want to. So, how do we support unique people walking a different path, maybe even with a different goal, for sure?

Hadar: Different paths, different circumstances, like you had that internal motivation to learn, right? Like a lot of people learning English is a must, right? It’s like, let’s say someone is overweight and they’re not healthy, and they tell them, “Listen, you gotta start working out”. And they don’t like it, but they have to do it.

Will: Yeah. Someone just moved to the US or they’ve been here, you know, under five years, we’ll say, and they’re still struggling… or whatever amount of time, but they’re struggling. Like it’s a survival need. Like they’re trying to get employment and trying to live. Then yeah…

Hadar: It’s like whether or not you’re gonna make enough money to live a happy life, right, or to live, or to fulfill yourself, or to just get by or to stop feeling like people are judging you all of the time because people judge, you know, especially in the US. I have students who have been living in the US for 20 years and they still get comments on their English. Their English is great, it’s just that they don’t sound American. Right?

So, yeah, sometimes it’s just like, “I have to do it. I don’t have that internal passion. Maybe I love English, but that need is kinda like overbearing and taking over. And this is where I want to have that conversation between the whole ‘speak like a native’. Because even for us, first of all, it’s not… even I don’t say that English is my native language or like my native language, English is a language that I mastered and I love deeply. And sometimes, you know, I only journal in English, I only write in English, all of that.

And you feel super calm, you were teaching in Portuguese, right, which is incredible. When you teach in a certain language, that really means mastery to me.

Will: Sure.

Hadar: But do you feel that it’s the same for you as in English is?

Not fully. In some ways, it’s getting there, like I have a similar internal experience with a lot of it. And I would think that you probably feel similarly in English in terms of the sort of the how automatically some of these things happen and they pop up in your head. And sometimes you can remember, or you know how to explain something in English, but maybe you try to do it in Hebrew, and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t even know the word for that.”

Absolutely. Yeah.

Will: Yeah. So it’s kind of this new life. I view it as like in each language it’s like, I imagine in our brain, you know, if we think of it as like this network, and there’s different clusters of things in different spots; and they’re all kind of interconnected, but there’s kind of these clusters. I feel like each new language I take on is kind of this new little life, this new little cluster.

And yeah, it’s all interconnected, but there are all these experiences and things I’ve gone through and learned that are more strongly associated with one language than another. And sometimes I don’t even know the vocabulary in the other languages, or in my native language, I only know it in some other place.

So, for sure, there’s some interesting things that happen as you go deeper in a language, you start feeling more at home in something that originally felt so foreign and weird. But it starts becoming part of you and you own it and you feel integrated with it, and it feels natural instead of feeling like an imposter.

Hadar: I love that.

Will: It’s not like this binary switch, but it’s something that over time, it’s like this process of continuous improvement, or just feel more and more at home in the language. So it’s not exactly like English, but there’s a lot of similar feelings to it that have evolved over time.

You made a point about native language too. And I would point out that there’s an interesting, like saying whether you’re a native speaker or not, on one hand, is just an indicator of the origin, you know, where someone came from, like their history. But I think it’s also interesting to look at right now, like the sort of performance or abilities or whatever you want to say.

Like when I listened to you speaking, if I don’t know where you’re from, which native speaker has a lot to do, that tag, that term has a lot to do with just where you’re from. If I don’t know that, if I just meet you on the street, I might think that you’re from here because you’re so good. There might be something here or there, I’m like, Oh, was that like, you know, maybe that was a little different or whatever. But like, in terms of how you actually speak, you have become very aligned in terms of your speaking and language patterns with how we speak. Which to me, this is an interesting area for me, it’s just sort of a sense of like pattern alignment.

So even though we’re talking about, do you need to become a native speaker or not – we can question the value of that goal and how deep do you need to go, and who should you learn from, and all these things. I think it’s amazing how far you personally have come, regardless of what our particular perspectives may be on these things. I would say that you are extremely close. So close that you probably, I don’t know, do you pass as a native speaker sometimes? I would believe that you would, that there’d be some period of time where people think, you know, I’m sure there are moments where…

Hadar: It really depends on a conversation, who I’m speaking with, and what the context is. But yes, a lot of times if I speak, especially if it’s just like not a deep conversation and I’m just going back and forth with someone, they’ll think I’m from the US, right. But even that, like, I think, there are so many people who’re native speakers and they don’t sound like they’re from the US, right?

And even now, you were trying to put me on a scale, right, like “you’re near, near”, and I’m saying, I’m not interested in, you know, not being graded, not being positioned as anything. And I don’t think we need to create, because it means that when you’re here, it means that you did well. Right?

Will: I liked that you rejected it. Yeah, that’s good. I see that.

Hadar: And it feels like you’re giving me a compliment, but I felt a little bit like, “Wait, what does that mean? So it means that everyone who don’t sound like me, or it doesn’t sound like me is a little lower on the scale than me?” And I know you’re only talking about, probably, sound and how it sounds to native ears, but I’m saying there’s a problem with that,

Will: Sure.

Hadar: because English is very, very diverse. And, you know, there are many different sounds there, people who were not born in the US or, you know, UK, Australia, and Canada, who are native speakers, because they were born into English with a different dialect. Right? Like a very different dialect.

Will: Can we dive into that a bit? Let’s see, how do we want to position that or how do we want to frame it? But, yeah, is there value in, quote-unquote, ‘sounding like a native speaker’. Acknowledging, by the way, what you just said, that there is a whole lot of variety. What does it mean to be a native speaker? Even if we do limit it, you know, if we allow the distinction – non-native and native, just within the world of native speakers, there’s a ton of variety, depending on where you grew up, you know, regions in the US, UK, South Africa, all the places, Singapore, where English is spoken.

Yeah, we could play with the definitions and look at the huge amount of variety there is. But yeah. Is there value in with any one of these audiences, these groups with getting so aligned with their patterns that you are perceived to be one of them, at least in moments? Is there value in that happening or is that something that we should sort of sidestep and say, “Look somewhere else, that’s not where you should be focusing?”

Hadar: That’s such a great question. So, two things. One: I think, yeah, there’s value because people are biased. And if you sound like them, they feel more comfortable with you. And we know that.

Will: I’m glad you acknowledged that.

Hadar: Of course, if you sound different, they’ll first think, “Oh, you’re different, where you’re from? You’re not like me.”

Will: This discrimination is real.

Hadar: Right, absolutely. So, of course, it’s like we can talk about anything – any area in life, you know, race, gender, sexuality, like whatever it is, we can say, “Yeah, of course, the predominant group that is in power will always want you to be like them. So, the people who are marginalized or like are not part of that group, yes – if you want to succeed, you want to sound like them, to look like them, whatever, but there is always also the sense of identity that is very powerful  in other areas, like, you know, race and gender, and other aspects, but less in language, right?

This has not been addressed yet. The fact that there is this discrimination and it is wrong also to address the fact that people have that bias, that judgment, that discrimination, the moment they hear an accent –  it is not addressed enough for people to start looking for those biases, right? Like to ask themselves the questions that they’ve been asking around other areas. So, that’s the first thing.

Yes, of course, you do have an advantage. The question is, do we want to, to promote that? I mean, the industry is promoting it because that’s like how the industry makes more money. And I love what you said about “I feel like home”, right, that language feels like home. Yeah, that’s what we want! That you can feel like home, even if you don’t sound like a certain group of people. That is what’s so interesting. Like, you can get comfortable and immediate and emotional when using a certain language, even if you don’t sound a certain way.

So that’s my point. And I think we need to shift that from sounding as like a prize that you get, not a prize – a grade that you get, according to how you sound. And from there, it’s more internal. It’s not just about the results, it’s about your internal experience. I think that is what is important for me as a teacher to shift from the outside, so that people understand you, no, so you get what you want, right, like that shift.

And then, whether or not they pronounce the R correctly or, you know, it doesn’t matter so much. So, the shift is internal with the students, but also, with others. But it has to come by giving the power to the people who are not part of the predominant group.

Having said that, you know, there is something about mastering the nuances when you reach a certain level. When you do reach a certain level where you feel at home already, and you are ready to embrace those nuances without them inhibiting you, I think, yes, I think this is the place where we can kind of like dive deep, go down that rabbit hole of, you know, the different T’s and the stop sounds, and like the drops of consonants when no one else notices – the things that are not that essential.

But the problem is with our obsession of sounding like a native. And I don’t think that you are, you know, you’re not promoting that, but I think the industry does. It’s so much about the nuances that people lose track of what’s really important. Right? And they get obsessed and feel incompetent about not being able to say ‘kitten’, you know, because they hear so much about like that ‘kitten’. Or, you know, like they say ‘ket’ instead of ‘cat’. And they’re like, instead of focusing on what it is that you want to say and how do you want to say it best, and how do you speak up instead of being quiet because you’re afraid of not pronouncing that T sound.

You see, I think that is the shift. It’s not that I have an issue about not sounding like a native, you know, it’s a gift if you’re able, it’s a gift because you’ll have an easier life. But is it worth it, for most people?

Will: I like the way this is going cause we’re getting into some of these nuances. Because it is tricky, like in marketing messages or even on your profile or my profile, like if we’re going to put out a post, like what did we put it’s kind of a, you know, the headline. And cause it’s kind of hard to package up these nuances we’re getting into now, into a little, you know, soundbite.

Because, okay, one of the things you said; I feel like there’s two things, let me kind of make a note that I want to hit here. So one thing is kind of systemically, you’re pointing out like as a society, how do we want things to move? And I think that’s an important conversation. And you’re helping support that with your work. I, to some extent, am. I, maybe not doing as good of a job of that, although I acknowledge some of these nuances and things.

Cause I think, you know, while I recognize the world is imperfect, there’s imbalances in power and like what is perceived as the standard. And maybe there’s value, maybe it’s a useful goal to try to shift that. And that’s something that we should contribute to.

At the same time, we are currently still in that imperfect world. So for an individual person that I’m coaching or helping, or a friend that I’m advising in the world that we’re still in today, as it’s shifting, there is still value, there is still an advantage in sounding like someone expects you to sound. Wherever that is, not just the standard in the US – perceived standard by some people.

Hadar: But what is that expectation?

Will: It’s a good question, right? But if I’m, so even me, probably will… I have to think about this more. But to some extent, I know I’m going to modulate my behavior, I’m going to modulate my language, maybe I’ll even modulate my accent or my voice, depending on who I’m speaking with.

Like talking with my grandma versus an attractive stranger at a bar. Versus someone in the South versus someone in New York. I don’t know to what extent I do this, but I think that to some extent, there’s an awareness of my audience, and I am, maybe more than other people would, going to adjust how I approach that person. A little bit, based on who they are and what I think their expectations are, if that makes sense. But how much do you do that?

Hadar: I think you’re absolutely right and we are different people, like we have different identities according to, you know, where we’re at. We’re different people at work than who we are with our parents or with our children. And it’s okay. You know, I use English differently if I speak with native speakers, with my students, or with someone who doesn’t speak English well, and I just need them to do something, you know. So I might change my English according, knowing that this is what I’m going to, I’m going to help them understand me better. Like get them to do what I want them to do.

So, it’s true, but the question is like, is it inhibiting? And again, language is important. And what I’m talking about here is mostly, a lot of it is the marketing that goes around, like the language that industry uses. But also, what is the goal that we have for our students? Most people watching this are learners or they are striving to improve. And they need to be aware of the fact that if they have that internal voice that says, “If you don’t sound a certain way, you’re not good enough”. Because like that feeling of not being good enough, impostorism, and you know, all of that, all of that things that you mentioned, will prevent them from being fluent. Right?

Like, when you get in your head, when you second guess yourself, when you think that you did not perform well, when you think about how you sounded, when you were afraid of what they’re going to think about you – that messes up your fluency, a hundred percent, right? And then, it’s a conversation about how fluent am I, and then, ultimately…

Will: …In any skill. If I’m playing guitar and I’m thinking too much about the technique and what are they thinking of me, then it dies. It falls apart.

Hadar: Right. Like if an athlete, a soccer player, is going to start thinking about all the moves rather than working spontaneously; or a singer will start thinking about their voice… It’s about everything. And I think this is why it’s important for us to understand how we set our goals is critical, is crucial.

Will: While I think it’s important for people who are on this journey of learning English to be careful with that messaging and how we prioritize things, so that they can stay, you know, flowing and fluent and uninhibited. I feel like it’s easy to kind of collapse that together with, you know, what goal should you have? Should you ultimately want to sound like a native speaker or something else? Or where is the thing that you’re ultimately going towards? I feel like it’s easy to kind of mix those two together.

Like on a guitar, I do want to practice my scales and learn such amazing dexterity. I do want to copy like solos of the greats and learn all this stuff. The technique can get in the way of a performance; and the fluency and the vitality and the life and the personality of it.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t… I don’t know. I feel like it’s a tricky conversation cause it’s too much for, yeah, a beginner or someone in the middle on the path. There’s so many… it’s a minefield where they can get stuck and lose their fluency, lose their confidence with some problems.

Hadar: I like the example that you use. Yes, like if I hear a great solo and I want to imitate it, I mean, that’s amazing. This is why I would ask my students to pick the best speakers, the ones that they resonate with the most, and tell them, “Do the imitation exercises”. But from here, and to, you know, feeling uncomfortable not sounding like them… You’re not going to sound like, you know, your favorite guitarist. And that’s okay. Like you’ll have almost everything, but there’s going to be that one thing. And you’re okay with that as a guitar player.

Will: …or you’re not, depending on your goals and how you approach it. But what you do when you try to perform versus your ideal and it falls short or there’s some gap or it’s different, maybe it’s different in a good way or a bad way, like, how do you perceive that gap and what do you do moving forward? I feel like that’s a key part of the question.

Hadar: Yes, it’s not the language, right? It’s who we are as human beings and how we show up because we want to strive for the best, but we need to be okay with, you know, like at least putting an effort into doing the things that we want to do. And we need to have like an ideal. I think that’s great. And that ideal could have a certain sound.

Will: Can I throw in a question that it’s clarifying for me in a lot of cases?

Hadar: Absolutely.

Will: So, the question I like to ask the people I’m working with to get clarity on their goals and values is, “If you could wave a magic wand, would you want to sound exactly like a native speaker or no?”

I’m just kind of throwing this out, but I mean, I think this is a clarifying question, cause you talked about maybe, there’ve been different themes in this conversation at different points. Like maybe we don’t need to sound like a native speaker or shouldn’t even want to necessarily. Maybe we should be proud of how we sound. And that’s going to be positive for society and for the world to have more diverse speakers rising into power and throughout all the world, and not conforming to one standard, but owning who they are, put their own flavor of speech and language. Maybe the best goal isn’t necessarily to even want to sound like a native. Maybe you should be okay, or even intentionally go somewhere else.

Hadar: Let me ask you a question a little differently because I think it’s problematic. Cause it’s not a fair question, right? Why? Because of who wouldn’t, right? Like if you could avoid bias, if you could, you know, get whatever you want as anyone else, but the question is not just the sound.

Let’s say, okay, you can choose… I have a better question. Okay, you guys watching, this is important. One or two? One – to be as fluent, immediate, expressive in English, like you are in your native language, like you would wake up and speak without thinking, right? Like go into deep arguments, make people laugh like crazy; get all the nuances in the language, know all the idioms, all the expressions, everything – but have an accent. Okay. But everyone will be like, “Oh, where are you from?” That’s one.

And two – to sound like a native speaker, meaning everyone would be like, “Oh, are you from Minnesota?” or “Are you from LA?” but still have the experience of missing out words, not having the confidence to speak, not understanding nuances when people use them or like not being able to do it, afraid of humor, right? And, what else, uncertain about grammar mistakes, conditionals, past present perfect, all of that. Right. One or two? Let’s see.

Will: I’d say why not both? I’ll just throw that out there.

Hadar: No, but because you said, if you could, um, wave a magic wand and say, you know, one, and you’re only talking about sound like a native. And I’d say, “of course, both.”

Will: Or speak like a native. Include everything. To me, it could include all the layers of it. Some people say, no. Some people actually say no to that question. It’s not just like everyone says yes.

Hadar: Yes, of course, right. And I love that. I think it’s, it’s great. But when you asked that, a lot of people said, yes, so this is why. Okay, so a lot of ones.

Will: Sure.

Hadar: And, I mean, it’s obvious. So it’s, you know, it’s not about the sound, it’s not about the nuances, it’s about feeling at home, which is what you said. Like feeling at home in a language. And pronunciation teaching, ultimately, needs to help people feel at home, not always feel like they are not there yet.

And I feel that the way pronunciation is being taught for the most part is to get them to where the teacher wants them to be, to sound like them. Rather than to give them the tools to really feel at home and to get what they want. And that is the problem. And the essence of it is in ‘speak like a native’. And this is my point, you see.

And I think you’re right, like ultimately, if you get to a level where you feel at home, and of course pronunciation has something to do with it – because if you want to have that number one, it has to go through the mouth. So, working on your elements of pronunciation, understanding how the mouth works, using pronunciation to build grammar structures, all of that is a tool to get there. Like pronunciation is a tool to get to number one – it’s not the end goal. Right?

Will: Sure. I agree.

Hadar: And I think that, you know, these are nuances. And I think that what ‘speak like a native’ means to me is not what it means to you, you know? And I think we both agree, we both agree on the same thing. Like we both agree that we just want to see our students succeed. Right? Like we just want…

Will: For sure, ultimately. Sometimes I do hear people who, they’re beyond survival in the language. They can communicate, they feel pretty alive, but they’re frustrated by the question “Where are you from?” They do want to fit in.

There are some people, just to point out, even if they are a minority, who do want to sound like a native. Even with everything else we’ve said: with having a good command of the language, with feeling pretty good, having lived in the US for a while, feeling like their relationships are pretty good. But they still are frustrated by that perception, that stigma around how they sound every time they open their mouth.

I think that there’s still, even if it’s a minority of people, perhaps. I don’t know. Everything we’ve said is true.

Hadar:  Okay. So, let’s say, you and I are having a conversation, and I’m telling you, “Listen, I have this really big interview in this corporate job for the position of a VP. And I really want it.” It’s like, “Okay. So let me tell you how you can come off as a man – come across as a man, right. Just do this to look like a man, and then you’ll get the job.” Right? I’m exaggerating here.

But just to tell you the difference, a situation where you’re like, “Okay, as a woman, you have less chances to succeed” So, instead of changing society and telling people, “Wait, there is like a problem here with how things work”, instead of that, we’re saying, “Okay, so just look like a man, or look white, or look whatever, so you’ll have better chances.” True. But is this aligned with your values? That’s what I’m asking.

Will: That’s tricky. I think that language is easier and less problematic. Obviously, we could debate that point, but I think it’s a lot easier to change your accent than to change your gender, your race. I think it’s within the realm of possibility to sound… it is technically feasible, more easily – whether or not that’s the right thing to do. I think that’s kind of the point you’re zeroing in on here.

Hadar: Okay.

Will: I don’t know.

Hadar: For those watching who have been trying to work on their pronunciation, write yes or no if it’s easy to change an accent. Yes – if it’s easy…

Will: Oh, man, it’s not easy. It’s definitely not easy. It’s definitely not easy.

Hadar: OK. So…

Will: But possible.

Hadar: It’s possible. But like, when people have a life to live, you know, you and I were both, we were both obsessed with it and we made the time for it because that was our priority. For me, it was because I was an actress. And for me it was whether or not I get certain roles. That was my… objective.

Will: Which, hopefully, that’s changing too. There’s good conversations around that.

Hadar: Right. So, absolutely, but not yet, still. And I know how hard it is in Hollywood. Right? So, we had that luxury and privilege to invest a lot of time and hours. And you said like you had thousands and thousands of hours.

Will: For most people it’s not practical. But some people still want it. Some people do. That’s the point. I’m defending a very tiny minority here, truly.

Hadar: Yeah. So why is that language used within the entire industry? Right? That is my question. Why do we always, like why do we make – we, you know, language teaching – make people feel incompetent because we tell them that it’s possible and feasible, like at the tip of their fingers? And it is. But ‘sounding like a native’; and the fact that this is where they should strive.

Whereas that internal journey of getting comfortable with being you, and with mistakes, and understanding that the norm of English is changing. Like you said, the norm of Hollywood is changing; and the norm of English is changing. Which means that grammar mistakes are more acceptable; and different sounds, and all of that.

And I know, like we would have those students who want those, those things. But it’s important to say that it’s for that specific part that can afford and invest all those hours. So it’s not just like ‘practice for two hours and sound like a native’.

Will: It’s tricky to get the messaging right. And I try to be careful based on who is listening to me at a given time, because I’m going to give different advice to different people. If I’m talking to someone one-on-one and their goal is what I’m saying, they have the resources and they really do want to sound like a native for whatever reason, I’ll help them to try to do that.

But like you’re saying, let’s see how it’s not a practical goal. It’s maybe not even a good goal for a lot of people. And it’s probably focusing on the wrong area. You should focus on feeling at home, feeling confident, feeling alive. So, again, I think we’re probably actually agreeing on most of this.

Hadar: Oh, absolutely.

Will: But there’s these little details.

Hadar: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s really important to address that and to see how problematic it is. And also to remember that, you know, sometimes when people tell me “No, no, but I really want to sound like a native”, my job is to tell them that… to show them a different perspective. And to show like, do you know of a person who has an accent who is not fluent and is successful? And if you can show me one person, that’s possible for you to, right? So it doesn’t mean that speaking like a native, feeling native in the language means success.

Ultimately, why do you want to sound like natives, right? Because it opens doors. It opens doors, it gets more opportunities, there’s less judgment. So what if you could have that sounding like yourself, you know?

Let’s take one question. Can you see the questions?

Will: Yeah.

Hadar: Yeah. Chris is saying, “What if people told me I had to talk like a straight white guy in order to show up better in conversation?”

Will: Yeah. It’s a rough one. Obviously, that’s… something we can push back on pretty easily as like a messed-up thing, right?

Hadar: Yeah. And this is what I’m saying. Like the conversation around language, it has not changed, right, has not changed in many, many years. It has gotten worse since YouTube, since teaching on YouTube. So I think, cause I think it’s changing in a lot of institutions, but, you know, we know YouTube. YouTube is predominant in the language teaching industry.

Okay. So you know what? We have a lot of great questions, but the questions here are about pronunciation, which we could definitely answer.

So I think here’s what we’re going to do, since we might have just one more minute.

Will: Gotcha.

Hadar: Will, first of all, this is an invitation for another live, so we can answer all those questions. For those of you who had questions for us, once the live is up on my feed, please come back and ask that question there. And then Will and I will go live again and answer all of those questions. And then, of course, talk about pronunciation as well cause we’re both very passionate about it.

Will: There’s an interesting one in the chat there.

Hadar: Yeah, tell me.

Will: “Why does it feel like some people blame other non-native speakers who want to sound like native speakers? I mean, why do we need to narrow it down to a certain conclusion?”

Hadar: Okay. So, what would you say about that? It’s probably directed to me too. Okay. What would you say? And then I’ll respond to it.

Will: My thought is, as teachers, you’re right, there’s a certain obligation, responsibility socially to think about how we’re impacting individuals in the world. For individuals though, to take the perspective of the learner, for any given person who’s learning any language or accent or whatever, I think there isn’t necessarily one right answer. And you might get judged by different people based on your choices or values or whatever.

But if you want to sound like a native, my thought is, go for it. Yes, we could question that, and that’s a very valid thing to question. Look at the deeper reasons why, like you were talking about, Hadar. And maybe there’s another path, where you don’t have to do that specific thing to get what you really want.

But with that said, if that’s what you want, go for it. It can be, speaking from experience – because that’s what I personally try to do in every language I speak – is sound like a native or a type of native, or various types of natives. For me personally, that is a very fulfilling journey that has given me a lot of value and fun in my life.

But it’s not for everyone. Again, yeah, we don’t have to force that. And sometimes it’s better to even maybe push people away from that. But if you want to do that, I would say, go for it, personally.

Hadar: And I agree because as I said, I was very much in love with the journey of discovering the nuances of the language. So if someone had told me back then, “Oh, you don’t need to do it”, I’d be really pissed off.

Will: Exactly.

Hadar: Way back, when I learned phonology at the university, and my phonology teacher said, “It’s impossible to sound like a native”, that really pissed me off. I was just like, “Uh, no”. But I think that it requires reframing. Because I think that for most learners, for most learners, having that as your story ‘I want to sound like a native’ creates a lot of frustration on its way. Unless you reach that level, which requires a lot of time.

And again, like if you’re in love with it and you want to do it – and we’re talking about a very specific group of people – yes, absolutely go for it. Cause it’s kinda like you want to master a skill. Just understand what we are doing is an invitation to understand your motivation. Is it because you don’t want to be judged? Everyone’s going to judge you anyway. Right?

And that’s going to show up in other areas in your life. A lot of times going through this process really gets people to change many things in their lives as well. And how they show up like in their relationships, and when it comes to health, when they really go through this process of letting go of the need to be perfect. When it comes to the language; I’m talking about my students, for example.

But, you have to ask yourself the right questions. And if it is just because you are love with mastering the nuances of a language, and you feel like you have the time and you have the passion and the motivation to do it, of course.

But if it’s just because you want to keep that negative conversation in your head – “But I am not enough”, and that is like a way for you to push yourself forward, I’m saying that it’s a disservice. You’re doing yourself a disservice. And you need to kind of like ask yourself, what is your real goal? Like I said, is it just sounding like a native, or feeling truly, you know, comfortable, authentic, and all of that?

So, it’s just an invitation to think, to take a closer look at something and not just to regurgitate something that you’ve heard from your teachers; and to be like, you know, “Oh, because that means that I’m successful.”

if you’re going through this conversation and you have a clear understanding, then yes. But not just because you were told when you’re, you know, seven that, “Oh, you sound bad.” And when you were 18, “Oh, you have a funny accent”, and that gets you to be like, “I want to be like a native.” Cause it will always put you at a inferior position. So that’s my long answer.

Will: Yeah. I like that answer.

Hadar: Okay. A few things that you’d like to say, last few things?

Will: Closing thoughts kind of thing?

Hadar: Yes. Or leading up to the next line.

Will: Yeah. Well, first of all, yeah, I’m excited to do another one. First of all, I’m just glad we’re having this discussion. I don’t think, you know, we kind of jokingly framed it as like who’s going to win the argument kind of almost right. But to me, this is just an important conversation, and it’s an important conversation to approach with the perspective of curiosity and exploration; and not trying to be right, but trying to find a better answer together. And I think we’re doing a good job of imperfectly exploring that.

So, I’m really glad we’re doing it, cause people get heated up. There’s tons of stuff happening in the chat. We’re both, you know, feeling emotions come up. And based on our past and trying to protect people that we know, and like care for people in the world…

There’s a lot of stuff that gets tied up with accent and identity. And it’s a very tricky topic for a lot of people. With people who have very extreme perspectives on it sometimes: you must do this or you must not do this. So I think it’s good to meet and explore kind of this gray area and play with the different perspectives.

So, regardless of any outcomes, so to speak, I’m most happy just that we’re doing this and exploring it with curiosity.

Hadar: Absolutely. And I think what you said, it’s really about the individual path of every learner. And I think this is why one assumption, like me saying, “no, you don’t have to sound like a native”, it’s generalizing. Because some people like, that’s their passion. So I don’t want to interfere with that.

And for others to be like, “okay, if you sound like a native, that means that you are successful or fluent.” So, sounding like a native is often mistaken with being fluent, which is what people want, right? So I think also that is a general assumption.

So we need to understand that there are a lot of nuances and I think that someone who is speaking a second language, they need to think, to have that critical thinking and being like, “what do I really want? What are my goals?” and to be aware of all the things that are happening and all the biases, unconscious biases that people are going through.

Will: Yes. But also people could get caught up in that of like, “Oh my God”, politically correct, “what do I do for my own language learning? What should I pick?” I don’t know, I would say just start learning, do whatever you want, do what sounds fun. And in parallel, explore the stuff that we’re talking about. You don’t have to get it perfect. Try to become like a native speaker if you want, and then you change or vice versa. Go play with it, your goals and your path will change as you go into this.

Hadar: “Try to become like a native speaker” – “I can’t, I can’t”. Every time I hear it, it’s just like, what do you mean by ‘try to become like a native speaker’? This is the problem, you know.

Will: Sure.

Hadar: Try to speak …

Will: We’re speaking to different people though.

Hadar: We’re done, we’re done [smiling].

Will: Yeah. No matter what we say though, there’s going to be some people who feel left out.

Hadar: Yeah, but when you say ‘try to become like a native speaker’, it’s like because where you are now today is probably not enough, even if it’s for you.

Will: That can be motivating for some people. We’re having a little bit of a disagreement on how to support people in their journey. I feel like, yes, you can feel when you look up at the top of the mountain that you’re climbing and you see how far away it is, you can be like, “Ah, f$#ck, I’m never going to get there”. Or you can look behind you…

Hadar: No, but that’s like the result of an action. I can take actions and get there, right? But to be someone – that means that you’re losing your own identity right now. You need to let go of your…

Will: We could reframe that. I would say, not necessarily.

Hadar: … To be continued.

Will: ‘To be continued.’ I love it because I don’t think there’s a clear answer. So let’s keep exploring. Yeah. I love this.

Hadar: Absolutely. Okay.

So you guys, take into consideration that we haven’t seen a lot of your amazing comments, some of them. But please come back to the feed and share your thoughts, share your opinion so we can continue the conversation.

Of course, if you don’t follow Will – @simpleamericanaccent, then go ahead and follow him.

Okay, Will, have a beautiful, beautiful day.

Will: You too.

Hadar: Everyone here, thank you so much for being here and for participating.

Will: Thank you everyone.

Hadar: And I’ll see you soon, yeah. Thank you so much. Bye.

Will: Bye.