Why is listening to native English speakers so hard? 🤨😅😩 WATCH THIS this lesson to get better at listening to fast-talking native speakers and LEARN HOW to improve your listening skills!
More Lessons to improve your Listening Skills: bit.ly/mmmEnglishPronunciationTraining
Practise listening to and imitating my pronunciation:
CLICK HERE to read the full lesson transcript.
More English lessons recommended for you:
Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! I think that working on your listening skills is one of the hardest parts of becoming fluent in a new language. It’s like all of the rules that you learnt in a classroom, they just disappear when you start talking to native speakers because they start using slang words, they push words together so fast when they speak, that you can’t even recognise them.
And there’s nothing that makes you feel more frustrated and more deflated when you’re talking to someone and you’re unable to understand them, when you want so much to be a part of the conversation but you get stuck. It’s the worst feeling. I actually, I can feel that feeling now in my gut. It’s awful but today we’re going to talk about why it’s so difficult to understand native speakers and what you can do to become a better English listener.
So why, why is listening to native English speakers so hard? Firstly, there are so many versions of English and this is true for most languages. There’s regional dialects and accents that make it hard to listen and understand. But to put it in context, there are some English accents that I have trouble understanding.
All English speakers, all of us, we’re all trying to understand and communicate with each other, even if it is our own native language. Sometimes we use different words or different grammar rules to each other and that makes things really tough for you.
Now there are also significant differences between formal and informal spoken English. Informal English includes slang and common expressions that are unique to a particular region or even a particular group of people within a community.
You come into the cricket and you bowl and conditions are alright there’s probably bit of movement that was a bit off the pitch and the batter’s got no idea.
I mean, I have no idea what my brother said just then and we speak the same language. We learnt it from the same people!
Another reason why listening is hard is because you’re used to the English that you hear from your English teachers and that can be a little different to real-life English.
Now think about the way that you speak or you chat with your friends in your own native language and then think about how you would present in front of your colleagues at work. The words you use would be slightly different, you would, maybe speak a little more clearly, maybe more formally.
And this is exactly the same difference that I’m talking about. Your English teachers are trying to express themselves clearly so that you can understand them.
Right, that’s all so interesting but what can you do to improve your listening skills? Right now, I’m going to go through a few things that will help you to take action and start improving your English listening skills.
1. What and how
What and how are you practising? This is a really important question for you. So there’s listening as a verb, you’re doing that right now. But practising listening is a completely different exercise and when you’re practising listening, you must pay attention to what you’re listening to and how you’re listening to it.
So if you’re listening to this video right now and you’re understanding about half of what I’m saying, it’s a little difficult to keep going, right? Your first reaction might be to put the subtitles on which is great for helping you to understand but not really a great way to practise your listening skills.
So when you’re practising your listening skills, instead of turning on the subtitles, slow down the speed of the video, alright? This gives you a little more time and space to help hear the sounds that I’m making and then connect them to the words that you recognise.
And you can use this trick on any YouTube video. This one or a more challenging one. So you can click that button just down there and slow down the speed. Okay then you’ll hear the things that I’m saying more clearly.
Now slowing down the speed is not cheating, it’s a really great way to start hearing the sounds and recognising words as they’re spoken and listening to common patterns in English. Then at any time you can speed it back up to natural pace and hear it as a native speaker would say it.
Now there are a few of you who complain that I speak too slowly in my lessons. But you can actually use this same tool to increase the speed of the video too and this is a really great feature to start getting into the habit of using, right? You can do it with audio books, you can do it with other video platforms as well, get into the habit of it.
Now if you’re watching this video and you can understand most of what I’m saying without the subtitles on, awesome!
But now I want you to try and challenge yourself a little. So challenge yourself by listening to some videos by native English speakers who aren’t teachers, right? So use the same technique that I mentioned just before, slow down the speed when it’s difficult to hear before you turn on the subtitles.
So to summarise, listening to complicated movies in English with the subtitles on, is not the best way to practise your listening skills. In fact, subtitles don’t really help you with your listening skills much at all. Start with material that you can understand and from there, increase your difficulty.
And just to be clear, when I say difficulty I’m talking about different accents. I’m talking about the context so lots of background noise makes it challenging to listen. I’m talking about more informal conversations, you know, that often use slang or different expressions that might be new. All of these things increase the difficulty of listening to someone in English.
So these are the things that you should challenge yourself with.
2. Learn fillers
Okay, so listening to speech is different than reading text. I mean, people speak kind of differently than they write. Well, like yeah all of these words are exactly what I’m talking about. Every language has their own fillers that people use. Now fillers are little words that don’t mean much. People usually add them to their speech without even thinking about it. They’re words like…
- Ok, so…
- I mean… kinda
- Well, like…
They’re all examples of filler words and all they’re really there for is to give the speaker a little more time to think about what they’re going to say next.
Now it’s really natural for native speakers to use them. They don’t even think about it. But it can be really tough for you while you’re listening to a native speaker and their speech is full of these extra words that don’t really mean very much. Learning them, becoming familiar with the ones that are commonly used will help your brain to sort of skip over them while you’re listening so you’ll train yourself to ignore them and listen for the more important things that they’re saying in the sentence.
So these are really commonly used by native speakers in lots of different English-speaking countries but there might be some more specific ones in certain areas. So if you’re watching this as a native English speaker and you’ve got a couple of fillers that you want to add to this list that are commonly used where you’re from, then please do. I’d love to have you help my students here on the mmmEnglish Channel.
But I always find it really interesting to hear the different fillers in other languages too because they can be quite different and they sound quite strange if you try and use a filler from another language in English. No one will recognise it as a filler.
3. Connected speech
Right so you need to study connected speech. Just as grammar is the path to better writing and confidence is a big step towards better speaking, understanding connected speech is the key to better listening skills in English. Connected speech is the way that sounds and words link together, they blend together or maybe the sounds even change completely as we speak a word out loud.
Native speakers don’t pronounce every word separately. Instead, we push words together, some of these sounds disappear or they change and it all happens as we speak out loud. So knowing what connected speech is is the first step but you need to practise it as well.
Now this is a great place to start. There is a whole playlist of mine on connected speech right there. How to use it in naturally spoken English. So I go over a lot of detail there step-by-step. There’s lots of examples and there’s lots of opportunities to practise as well.
Now I’m going to link that at the end of this lesson so don’t go anywhere just yet alright? Because I’m not quite finished yet.
Listening’s great because you can do it while you’re multitasking. You can listen to music while you’re driving a car. You can listen to a podcast while you’re walking, you can watch TV while you’re cycling at the gym. Awesome!
4. Actively listen
But if you want to improve your listening skills, you need to do more than just listen. You need to be actively listening, right? To do that, the best thing you can do is have a goal. Set a specific goal or a challenge that you need to accomplish through the listening practice.
So you could challenge yourself to recognise ten new words from a podcast and write them down as you’re listening to them. Maybe even try and guess the meaning from the context of the discussion. You can look them up after to check if you’re right.
Another idea is to use a video with a transcript. A TED talk is perfect for this. So listen and after you listen, try and explain the author’s or the speaker’s opinion about a particular issue. And then use the transcript to go back and see how much of it you got right or how much of it you understood.
If you’re lucky enough to have a language exchange partner, someone who’s learning your native language and who’s helping you to practise your English skills, then practise telling each other a story, maybe about your childhood. Then try to summarise it back to them so that they can tell you how accurate you were with your listening.
Another awesome technique is to combine different English skills so combine listening with speaking or combine it with reading or writing. Like I said earlier, if you hear an expression that you don’t know, try and guess the meaning from the context and just make a note of it so you can check it later. While you’re listening, read the transcript but don’t just read it in your head, read it out loud, practise your pronunciation, you can imitate or shadow the person who’s speaking. So you’re copying their tone and their stress patterns. It’s a brilliant way to develop your pronunciation skills and your listening skills.
All of these things are going to help you to improve your listening skills but they require extra work. It’s not just listening to English but it’s practising listening to English. And they’re two really different things. Don’t just hear. Instead, make sure you’re listening. You’re thinking, you’re comprehending. you’re listening again to check. You’re writing it down, then you’re listening again. Right? You get the idea.
Alight a little pop quiz. I want to see if you’ve been really listening to what I’ve been talking about, how much of this video did you understand? Were you actively listening or were you just staring out the window of the bus thinking about something else?
To check if you are listening, I want you to answer this question in the comments below this video. What can you do to increase the difficulty of the audio you’re listening to? Can you remember what I said? Were you actually listening?
Another question, what is connected speech? And how can it help you to listen to native speakers? It’s an important one.
If you can’t remember, maybe you need to go back and watch this video again. Listen actively this time, alright? Or you can check the answers to these questions on the mmmEnglish blog because there’s a full transcript of this lesson and every lesson that I make on the mmmEnglish blog. The link is in the description and up there.