Why can it be hard to understand native speakers?
Did you ever wonder why it is so hard to understand everything that native speakers say? Have you noticed yourself asking native speakers to repeat what they said because you haven’t quite got what they were saying? Or do you feel like you’re missing out because you can only understand some of what they say?
Well if you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re not the only one!
When I was still actively studying English as a teenager I was terrified of having to have a conversation with a native speaker. I knew my own listening skills and knowledge of the language weren’t good enough for me to have a comfortable chat with anyone. So I started to wonder why that is and what I can do to make it easier for myself.
Why is it so hard to understand some native speakers?
- Speed of speech – think for a minute, when you speak your first language do you speak slowly pronouncing all sounds correctly and appropriately? No, you don’t. And that’s what native speakers don’t do either. They just say what they think without any reflection whether they can be understood or not
- Accents – did you know that only in the UK there are at least 17 different distinctive accents/dialects of English? People use the accents in which they grew up rather than the RP(received pronunciation) that you may know from the TV so it can be quite hard if you’re not used to it
- Your background knowledge – they way you learned English can be quite different from the way people naturally speak it. Even if you know what some words mean doesn’t mean you will be able to recognise them in a sentence as native speakers use ‘connected speech’ so it’s much more difficult to distinguish between single words for the listener who’s never heard it before
What can you do to help yourself understand native speakers?
- Ditch the subtitles – watch all your series or films WITHOUT any subtitles. See how much you can understand. If the subtitles are on, do you think you’re actually listening or reading? I think you know the answer.
- Listen to clips on Youtube – find videos with native speakers talking about topics that you’re interested in and listen to them. Your familiarity with the topic will help you understand and the listening will make you used to natural speed of speech
- Don’t try to understand everything – It’s OK if you don’t, actually. On the other hand there is nothing wrong with asking people to repeat what they said. But, don’t feel bad if some of it is still quite vague for you, you’ve understood the GIST, that’s great, smile and move on to another topic in the conversation 🙂
There are some other things that you can do to help yourself be a better listener. Why don’t you join our FREE 14-day challenge ‘Level UP your English communication skills’ here
We’re going to share tips and strategies that will make you feel much more confident working in an English-speaking environment!