Why spoken English is difficult to understand

A lot of English learners have trouble understanding what native English speakers say. One reason that real English is difficult to understand is that the English in classrooms and textbooks is very different from how people really speak. Some of the differences include:


Native English speakers use different words and phrases in spoken English than they do in writing.

– They use slang a lot.

– They say filler words, such as “um”, “hmm”, “ah”, “uh”, etc.

– They skip the word “that” when using relative clauses.

– …and so on.


You’ll also notice native English speakers pronounce words differently when they say them together than when you say them one-by-one. This is called “connected speech”.


If you only learn English in a classroom, you probably only hear very careful pronunciation. You won’t be prepared when someone asks you something that sounds like:

– “I’m gonna getcha!” (I’m going to get you!)

– “Watchabeenupto?” (What have you been up to?)

– “Howyadoin’?” (How are you doing?)


So how can you get better at understanding spoken English?


The best way to improve is to listen to English. And I mean A LOT! There’s no way around it; you have to spend hours and hours listening to people speaking English.


1. Don’t just listen!

Listen to things that interest you. If you don’t enjoy something, it’s going to be hard for you to continue. You will get bored and stop. You can listen to an English podcast. English podcasts are an excellent way to learn English quickly. You can listen to them anytime anywhere.

With a little dedication, English podcast will help you quickly improve your listening skills and proficiency. One benefit is that podcasts often have transcripts (a written version of the audio). This means that you can listen and read at the same time, or look at the transcript if one part of a podcast confuses you.


2. Try listening!

Watch movies, TV shows, and videos in English (with English captions or without subtitles). Prefer English captions to subtitles in your native language. When you read subtitles in your language, it keeps your brain locked into “native language mode”. English subtitles are good, though. They help you to match words that you know with their natural pronunciations.


3. Do some kinds of activities with a group of English speakers. Build your own English speaking environment with your friends.


4. Talk to a native speaker one-on-one (could be with your English tutor/teacher or native speaker friend) on daily basis. When you talk to people live, you listen more carefully, and you also think about how you’re going to respond. This will help you think in English instantly without having to think in your native language and then translate it to English.


I’ve come up with 10 English websites that have numerous of listening podcasts. You’ll find them great resources for improving your English.

• BBC World Service – The English We Speak

• VOA Learning English

• Elllo

• Deep English

• 5 Minutes English

• My Happy English

• English Class101

• ESL Pod

• Culips

• Listen to English


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