If you didn’t understand what I just said, then you need to watch this video because you didn’t understand a very basic question in English. In today’s English lesson we are talking about why you don’t understand native English speakers and what you can do to start understanding. We will look at eight main reasons and how to fix them. So if you’re ready to start understanding native English speakers, let’s get started.
The biggest mistake that students make which causes them to not understand native English speakers is, and I’ve said it before. Many students learning English love to say every single sound. It is students focusing on every single word when they are speaking English. This is not how native English speakers think about English.
Native English speakers think about phrases and chunks of words. A chunk is a group of words. For example, ‘What are you doing?’ This is a chunk of words – it’s a group of words. When a native speaker sees these words, he does not think ‘What. Are. You. Do. Ing.’ When a native speaker sees these words, he thinks ‘Wodduhyuhdowing?’ Wodduhyuhdowing? There are no spaces or gaps between the words. It just sounds like one sound. Wodduhyuhdowing?
So this is one of the biggest reasons why you don’t understand native English speakers. For example, you learn the phrase ‘What are you doing’ in a textbook and you think ‘Yes! I’ve learned a new phrase.’ Then when you speak to a native speaker, he says ‘Wodduhyuhdowing?’ Wodduhyuhdowing? And you’re very confused. You don’t understand. ‘What did you say? I, I didn’t understand.’ But you actually know that phrase and you know the words.
So to fix this problem, I want you to start thinking about English in chunks, in groups of words. Stop thinking about English as every single word. The easiest way to do this is to listen to native speakers and copy them.
Do this for many weeks and many months and you will see that you start to speak English more like a native speaker yourself. You will also start to understand English easier because you understand how native speakers think about English and how native speakers actually use English.
A big part of starting to think about English in chunks is by learning the rules of and practising connected speech. At the start of the video, I said ‘Howdeepudidon?’ Howdeepudidon? This is how native speakers will say ‘How did he put it on’ very quickly. Let’s look at that more closely right now.
One thing we have done is drop a sound. Dropping a sound means when you remove sounds. You don’t say them. We don’t say ‘how did’, we say ‘howd’. Howd. We don’t say that final ID at the end of the word ‘did’. Another example is ‘mus be’. Mus be. We don’t say ‘must be’. We drop that final T sound and we just say ‘mus be’. Mus be.
Sometimes we also change sounds. For example, in my accent I don’t say ‘put’ with a T. I say ‘pud’ with a D sound at the end. I have changed that T sound to a D sound. I do the same with ‘it’. I don’t say ‘it’ with a T. I say ‘id’ with a D sound at the end. So I say ‘pudidon’. Pudidon.
Another thing we have done is link sounds. Linking sounds means when you join sounds together. For example, we don’t say ‘Put. It. On.’ The ‘put’, the ‘it’ and the ‘on’ all come together and we say ‘Pudidon’. Pudidon. It’s just one sound. Pudidon.
Another part of connected speech is adding sounds. Sometimes we add sounds between words to help us say them more quickly. An example is ‘do it’. We don’t say ‘Do. It.’ We put a W between the ‘do’ and the ‘it’ and we say ‘dowit.’ Dowit. This allows us to say ‘do it’ much quicker and much easier than saying ‘Do. It.’ Another example is ‘He asked’. He asked. We don’t say ‘He. Asked.’ We put a Y between the ‘he’ and the ‘asked’ and we say ‘Heyasked’. And a third example is ‘go out’. We don’t say ‘Go. Out.’ We put a W between the ‘go’ and the ‘out’ and we say ‘gowout’. Gowout.
Another part of connected speech is contractions. Contractions are when we make a word or a phrase shorter. This makes it quicker to say. Some very common examples are ‘he is’ becomes ‘he’s’. ‘They are’ becomes ‘they’re’. ‘Should have’ becomes ‘should’ve’. So learn the main contractions in English and this will help you to understand native English speakers more easily.
If I say ‘Tyler, I love the way you’ve decked out your new ride’, did you understand me? Probably not. Why? Because I used a name that you’ve probably never heard of, I used a slang word and I used an idiom. ‘Tyler’ is a common male name in English. ‘Deck out’ is a common idiom in English which means to decorate something very nicely. To make something look very nice. And the word ‘ride’ is a slang word which just means car. So to ‘deck out a ride’ means to make a car look really nice.
This is the third reason why you may have problems understanding native English speakers. Native English speakers love to use idioms and slang words. So if you don’t understand basic idioms in English and basic slang words in English, you may have problems understanding when two native speakers are speaking to each other or when a native speaker is speaking to you.
So to fix this, you need to learn common idioms common slang words and common names in English. In the description below we have a video on 25 English idioms and we also have another video on 15 common slang words. Check them out after you’ve watched this video. You should actually be learning at least one idiom per day. If you learn one idiom per day, in one year you will have learned 365 English idioms. That’s a lot!
Who do you listen to the most when you are listening to English? Is it two native English speakers speaking English to each other or is it English teachers like me and native English speakers speaking to you? When English teachers and native English speakers speak to you, they may sometimes speak very slowly and use English that’s very easy to understand.
And this is good because it’s easy to understand and you can learn. Also, if you only listen to native English speakers speaking to each other, you may not understand and this may be frustrating and make you feel like you don’t want to learn English any more.
But if you really want to improve your English listening skills, it’s important to also listen to native English speakers speaking to each other. You will see things that we talked about at the beginning of the video. For example, connected speech, slang, idioms, names and you will see how native English speakers use English to communicate with each other. These are all very important things to understand if you want to understand native English speakers easily.
English speakers speak so fast. I just can’t understand them. If you have ever said this before, I am going to tell you a little secret which can help you improve your listening skills. On YouTube, if you click on the little settings cog at the bottom right hand corner of the screen on a desktop and the top right hand corner of the screen on a mobile, you can click on something called ‘playback speed’. You can either make the video play faster or slower.
So if you’re listening to native English speakers speak very quickly, try slowing down the video. This will help you to understand them more easily. You can do this on any YouTube video – with my lessons or on anything that you enjoy watching. I know it’s frustrating when you’re learning a new language and you find it very difficult to understand native English speakers.
So try this little tip. Slow the video down and it will help you to understand. After you have listened to the video playing more slowly, you can then play the video back at normal speed and this will help you to be able to understand what you’re watching.
A lot of the time when native speakers are speaking English, they like to use fillers. What is a filler? Let me show you. Um, I went to this shop and well it was ahh, pretty good but it was like not very busy, you know? The words ‘um’, ‘well’, ‘ahh’, ‘like’ and ‘you know’ are all called filler words. These words have no meaning. They don’t add anything to the sentence. They just allow us to not have any silence so we can think about what we’re going to say next.
Now let me say that sentence again with no filler words. I went to this shop and it was pretty good but it wasn’t very busy.
Filler words are very common in English and if you want to sound like a native speaker, you can use them yourself. You also need to understand them so if someone uses them in a sentence, you need to know the meaning of that sentence. I already showed you five common filler words. but here are five more common examples. Actually. You see. I mean. Or something. So.
Do you use a dictionary in your language to help you understand English? Do you use Google translate to help you understand the meaning of English sentences? If you do, this may be one of the biggest reasons why it’s hard for you to understand English. If you’re using a translator, that means you are not learning to feel the meaning of English. You are just learning to translate.
Part of being able to speak a language fluently is being able to feel the meaning of the language and being able to understand that language without thinking about it. For example, if I say the word ‘to’, what do you think about? Do you translate that word back to your language? Or do you feel the meaning of the word ‘to’ which is normally about movement? What if say the word ‘car’? What do you think about? Does the word for ‘car’ in your language come into your head or do you just see a picture of a car?
Start trying to really feel the meaning of English and try not to use your language to translate. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking ‘Shane, how can I understand new words and phrases if I can’t translate?’ If you can understand most of what I’m saying right now, that means your English is very good. That means you can and should use English to English dictionaries to help you understand the meaning of new words and phrases.
For example, let’s pretend you see this word right here. You can search this word into an online English dictionary. When you search this word into the Cambridge online English dictionary, you will see that it just says ‘rich’. And you know what rich means. So now you understand the feeling of the word ‘wealthy’ without even using your own language to translate. You have learned the meaning of a new word in English by using English. This is great. This is fantastic. This is what you should be doing. So stop translating and this will help you to understand English easier and more naturally.
The last thing that I want to say today that will probably make you feel a lot better is there are some accents in English which are very difficult for me, a native English speaker, to understand. Sometimes when I’m listening to certain accents, I can’t understand a whole a sentence, a whole phrase or a specific word. Can you believe that? We are speaking the same language and I can’t understand.
So if you don’t understand English sometimes, please don’t feel bad. It’s normal and it happens to everyone. It takes time and practice to improve your English listening skills. So how can you improve your listening skills to understand different accents? Well there’s no secret here. It just takes time and practice and you should be listening to many different accents.