Today, I'd like to share 3 keys with you to better your listening comprehension with native speakers. Let's look what these 3 keys are :
Key 1 : Understand what makes native speakers hard to understand
- Why are they hard to understand ? The great number of vowels and diphthongs in English. Some of them are very similar to each other and by changing the vowels sound, the meaning changes and it becomes a big challenge if those vowels doesn't exist in your own language.
- Understand minimal pais (same constants - different vowels) : Boat-Bought ; Mad-Mud ; Hurt-Heart ; Men-Main ; Than-Then ; Bit-Bet ; Live-Leave ...
Notice that the only difference is the vowel or the diphthong and they can be very similar, so, in connected speech, it's not easy at all to distinguish between these kinds of words.
- Understand the way that native speakers shorten and link sounds
Let's give you a quick example : "How is it going ?". It's a classic phrase that everyone can get it easily but let's take it from a native speaker, it will be something like :"How'zit going ?".
There are 3 specific speech patterns that all native speakers use, and I'm going to take you throught them one by one :
a- Speech pattern 1 : Contractions
Let's see some examples which are very familiar : I'm; he's; they'll; we've; won't; can't ... What is important to remember that native speakers always use these contractions where they speak except when they want to stress the point.
- OK, I'll do it. (no stress on I'll : no particular emotion).
- I will do it. Nothing can stop me. (stress on will : shows determination).
Just be careful, Do not use contractions in formal writing (a letter, a report, an article ....) and keep them for speaking.
b- Speech pattern 2 : Weak forms
There are a large numbers of words (modal verbs, possessive pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions ...) which can have a weak form. People just swallow no-essential words.
- I can ski ---> I kn ski ("a" disappears)
- Here's my book ---> Here's mə book (so hard to hear "y")
- It's for you ---> It's fə you (we get rid of "o" and "r" is totally invoiced)
c- Speech pattern 1 : Phonetic links
Generally, any word that starts with a vowel, it links to the previous word, and this makes it hard to hear each word.
- He works as an engineer ---> He work sazanengineer
- She is interested in it ---> She(y) isinterestedinit
- They went to an amazing place ---> They wentto(w)anamazing place
Key 2 : Improve your own pronunciation
Clearly, if you mispronounce a word because you learnt it by reading then it is likely that you wouldn't catch it when you hear it.
There are 2 common traps if you have guessed the pronunciation of word by reading it :
a- Trap 1 : same spelling = Same sound
- If you think that "ea" always sounds like /iː/ (as jean) then you will mispronounce the following words : Great, Hear, Learn and Instead.
- If you think that "eu" always sounds like /u/ (as put) then you will mispronounce the following words : Judge and Furious.
b- Trap 2 : Word stress
In English, if you have more than one syllable in your word, you have to decide which syllable take the stress of your voice.
- The word Development (4 syllables )
Development or Development or Development or Development ?
In this case, the answer is : Development.
- Two words Propose and Purpose (to be pronounce similarly with 2 syllables)
In the first word, It's : Propose.
In the second word, It's : Purpose.
Key 3 : Learn primarily with your ears rather than your eyes
Now, you have a better understanding why native speakers aren't easy to understand, especially if you have learnt your English our of books.
It's for the simple reason that What you see is not what they say !
Therefore, the best way to learn new words and expressions is by first hearing them then seeing them in writing.
Here are some tips :
- Listen to audio books rather than read the printed versions.
- Listen to the radio and watch movies in English as much as possible. You will be surprised how quickly you will start to hear and understand more and more !
- If you are using a course book, work more with the accompanying CD than the book itself.
- If you are using a word you have learnt by reading and have never heard it before, make sure you check its pronunciation.