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3C: Common Competence Gaps

So far, you've been focused on building your competence of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. However, there are subtler aspects of your target language (TL) that you probably haven't noticed yet.

Below, we describe common linguistic features you should start paying attention to. Our detailed guide contains a full list of these features, so we recommend reading the full article when you are ready.

Don’t expect to master all of these in Stage 3. The goal is to just start noticing these things in your immersion. Noticing is the first step towards acquiring these aspects of language and improving your competence.

Native Phrasing

One of the most common errors that second language learners make is phrasing a TL sentence the same way it’s phrased in their native language (NL).

Different languages express the same ideas in different ways. If you try to transfer the phrasing of your NL to your TL, it usually won't sound natural and it may not even make sense.

For example, in English, medicine is something that you "take": "I took the medicine". In Japanese, they would literally say "I drank the medicine", even if the medicine is a solid pill. If you said to a Japanese person “I took the medicine”, they would think you stole the medicine from the store.

Part of learning to speak a foreign language is learning to separate the specific phrasing from the underlying idea. Instead of asking “how do I say this in my TL?”, ask yourself, “What would a native speaker say in this situation?”

Register

People speak differently in different situations. The way you speak to a child is not the way you would speak to a King. These different styles of speaking are called "registers".

Each language and culture has different registers and social norms for different situations. You'll need to learn how to speak in each register and when each register is appropriate.

Fillers and Fumbles

Natural speech is messy. People stop to think in the middle of sentences, go off on tangents, and clarify previous statements.

Natives use specific patterns to make disjointed speech feel natural. Using these patterns correctly and in the right quantity makes your speech more natural and more pleasant to native speakers.

Stress, Pitch, and Tones

In Stage 1, you learned the basic phonemes of your TL. Beyond these basic phonemes, some languages also use features such as stress, pitch, or tones to differentiate the meaning of words.

For example, in English, we sometimes use stress to distinguish between nouns, adjectives, and verbs that have the same spelling. "PER-fect" is an adjective, while "per-FECT" is a verb.

Beyond modifications to individual words, you also need to pay attention to intonation. Intonation is the variation in pitch and stress throughout a sentence. Different intonations can drastically change the nuance of a sentence. For example, in English, we use a specific intonation pattern to convey sarcasm.

It is helpful to read about the patterns and phonetic features used in your TL so you can notice them in your immersion.

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