Why hearing your target language “in the wild” may be different than how you learned it (Part 3: dialectal diversity!)

Apa khabar! Welcome back, language learners, to Adventures in Language!

In this mini-series, we’re talking about why hearing your target language “in the wild” may be different from how you learned it. It all boils down to 3 main things: 


  1. idiomatic expressions 

  2. sound blending 

  3. dialectal diversity 

Without understanding these 3 main points, it’s easy to lose confidence in your language learning progress. However, once you understand what’s happening under the hood when you go into those real-life conversations, you’ll feel more confident and in control of your language learning process. idiomatic expressions and sound blending. In our last two articles in this series, we covered idiomatic expressions and sound blending. In this article, we’re covering the third and final point: dialectal diversity. What is it, how does it work, and what should you know about it when you’re out having conversations “in the wild?” Well, 시간낭비 하지말고 (Korean ‘without further ado’), let’s get to it! 

What is dialectal diversity?

Simply put, dialectal diversity means “all the different ways a language can be spoken.” More specifically, it refers to variation in the way a language is spoken or written, which can include its vocabulary, grammar and/or pronunciation. Let’s say you learned the word for ‘fun’ in your target language. If your teacher was a Spanish speaker from Mexico, you might have learned the word ‘chido’. But then in conversation with a native speaker from Spain, you discover they don’t use that word – they use another word: ‘guay.’ And then you find out Spanish speakers from Ecuador and Venezuela say ‘chévere.’ If you’re like most learners, you might start to wonder “Did  I I learn it incorrectly the first time around? Which one is right? Which one should I memorize and use?” It can feel overwhelming – like if there are so many possible ways to say even this one simple thing, how am I ever going to learn this whole language? Fret not – because this all boils down to dialectal diversity, which is a natural and inherent part of human languages. After all, have you ever heard anyone not get passionate about whether it’s called pop or soda?

How does it impact your language learning?

Dialectal diversity exists in all language systems. That’s a simple fact. The way that fact impacts your language learning experience is in how you set your expectations about the process of language learning. To be successful at navigating language “in the wild,” you have to remove any expectation that there’s ever just going to be one correct way to say something in the language. There are always going to be several ways to communicate an idea in the target language. Think about it like this: the English spoken in New York City doesn’t sound like the English spoken in Texas. Similarly, Mexican Spanish doesn’t sound like peninsular Spanish. And Korean as it’s spoken in South Korea doesn’t sound like the Korean spoken in North Korea. While the reasons for dialectal diversity vary from place to place, they typically all come down to socio-historical trajectories and geographic boundaries. But more on that in another blog. 

The main thing to keep in mind...

Long story short, dialectal diversity is one of the leading reasons why you might struggle to understand new native speakers in real-life conversations. If you haven’t had exposure to their dialect, it’s going to take some time for you to catch onto the way they speak. So what can you do about it as a language learner? The main thing is this: remember that there isn’t one “right” way to speak the target language. Just because you come across a speaker who does or says something different than how you learned it – doesn’t mean the way you learned it was wrong. It’s just different! Of course, if you want to get better at understanding speakers of different dialects – widen your exposure to dialectal diversity by listening to diverse sources in the target language. For fun ideas on how to train your ear and expand your exposure to dialectal diversity, check out the tips shared in our intermediate plateau video.

For those of you in the Mango fam, you’ve probably already picked up on the fact that the Mango app is structured to help you navigate dialectal diversity. For example,

if you want to learn Spanish, you have the choice to learn Latin American Spanish or Castilian Spanish (from Spain), each course featuring voices from the target dialect. If you want to train your ear specifically for one dialect, you have that option. If you want to expand your dialectal diversity exposure by taking both courses, you can do that as well! The journey is yours for the taking.

Remember - it’s all about your goals

How you approach dialectal diversity in your target language should be closely tied to your communicative goals as a language learner. If your goal is to live and work in Spain, you may be wise to focus your time and energy on mastering that dialect. If you’re learning Spanish to communicate with your colleagues who come from a wide range of Spanish-speaking countries, getting exposure to a variety of dialects may be a more worthwhile route. But more on that in our next blog article! In the meantime, if you haven’t recently checked in on your language learning goals (that is, your why for learning the language), we highly recommend you do so. If you’d like an easy step-by-step walk-through to help you do that, check out our FREE Setting Good Goals worksheet (free sign-up link in the description). It’s the best 5 minutes you’ll ever spend on your language learning.

Thanks for reading!

Selamat tinggal! Want more engaging language content like this?  Sign up here for more FREE language learning content! This starts with getting your free copy of the Setting Good Goals worksheet mentioned above! 

Wondering what languages were used in this article?

  • English (recording language)

  • Malay | Apa khabar? means ‘Hello – how are you?’ (lit. Hello – what news?) and Selamat tinggal means ‘goodbye’ (lit. safe leaving) 

  • Korean | 시간낭비 하지말고 means ‘without further ado’ (literally translates as ‘without wasting time’) 

  • Interested in learning English, Malay, Korean, or one of the other 70+ languages that the Mango app offers? Click here to learn more!

Meet The Author:
Author - Emily Rae Sabo
Emily Rae Sabo
Linguist at Mango Languages
Emily Sabo (Ph.D., University of Michigan): A travel-hungry content creator with a Linguistics Ph.D. in bilingual language processing, Emily has studied 7 languages and loves getting to use them to connect with people around the world. When she’s not creating content for the Mango community, you can find her dancing, yoga-ing, or performing some good ole’ fashioned standup comedy.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

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