Hi there, and welcome.
In this video, I’ll tell you the four reasons why you have trouble understanding fast-talking
native speakers of English.
And of course, I’ll also tell you how to practice so that you can improve your listening
skills and understand what you hear in movies, on TV shows, and in real-life conversations.
So, let’s jump into it.
The number one reason why native speakers are hard to understand is obviously speed.
Now, when you listen to me or another teacher, you probably understand most of what we say,
and that’s because teachers speak slower.
We try to use simple language to make it easier for you.
But native speakers don’t have that kind of consideration.
They talk for other native speakers, so they talk fast.
And what happens as a result is reductions, that is, words get reduced in fast speech.
For example, words like “should have”, “could have” and “would have” become
“shoulda”, “coulda” and “woulda”.
“Kind of” becomes “kinda”, “going to” and “want to” get reduced to “gonna”
Then we have contractions like “I’ll”, “you’ll”, “you’re”, “we’re”
Now, reductions are important and you oughta learn about ‘em if you wanna be a good listener.
I know this stuff ain’t easy, but don’t worry.
You’ll get the hang of it if you keep workin’ on it.
Know what I’m sayin’?
If you’re a little confused about what I just said, it’s OK.
I used a lot of reductions there.
Here’s what I said: “Reductions are important, and you oughta learn about ‘em if you wanna
be a good listener.”
That is, “you ought to learn about them if you want to be a good listener.”
“I know this stuff ain’t easy”, that is, “isn’t easy”, “but don’t worry.
You will hang of it if you keep working on it.”
The “g” got dropped from “working” there.
And then I said, “Know what I am saying?” which is basically just “Do you know what
I am saying?”
It’s a slang expression that means “Do you understand?”
This is how native speakers often sound, especially if they’re speaking with a strong regional
So, let me share with you an exercise you can do to get more comfortable with fast speech.
I call this exercise 2x listening, that is, listening to audio at two times the natural
On YouTube, for example, if you go into the settings, you’ll see an option that lets
you speed up the video (and, of course, that will speed up the audio along with it).
You can also do this on media players on your computer or smartphone.
Now, you might be thinking, I’m already having difficulty listening to speech at natural
speed; how am I going to listen at 2x?
Well, whenever you watch something on YouTube and you really like it, for example, an English
lesson, an instructional video, a TED talk, an interview, a podcast, a news item, whatever
it is, after you finish watching it one time at normal speed, go into the settings and
speed it up and listen again.
Now, you can just speed it up to 1.25 times (that’ll be a little bit faster).
If you feel that’s easy, go to the next speed, and so on all the way up to 2x.
It will be challenging, but you can turn on subtitles or get the transcript if you can
and follow along.
As you listen, try to catch every single word that you hear.
If you cannot catch a word or phrase, it might be getting reduced.
So, rewind five or ten seconds and listen again.
Do this until you’re able to understand everything at 2x speed.
The purpose of this exercise is to train your ears to pick out words from fast speech.
If you make this a habit and do it a lot, you’ll get great results from it.
Nowadays, whenever I watch a YouTube video, I just start at 2x speed, and I only slow
down if I don’t catch a word or a phrase.
This exercise is great for listening practice, and it saves you a lot of time too.
So, that’s the 2x listening exercise.
Try it out.
Vocabulary is another important reason why listening can be difficult for you.
Even if you have great listening skills, and you can catch every word that you hear, it’s
no use if you don’t actually know the meanings of the words, right?
Here’s an example.
A friend of mine recently told me he had quit his job.
It was a well-paying job, and I thought he was happy with his career, so I asked him
why he’d quit.
Here’s the dramatic answer he gave me.
You notice that there are a few blanks in it.
I’m going to say the answer, and I want you to identify the missing words (you can
either write them down or just make a mental note).
I quit my job because my dream is to be an entrepreneur.
I want to escape the monotony, the drudgery, and ultimately the mediocrity of the rat race.
I don’t want to be just another cog in the wheel.
I want to chart my own course, pursue my dreams, be the master of my own destiny.
Did you catch all the words?
If you want, you can go back, listen once more and try again.
Alright, here are the missing words: “I quit my job because my dream is to be an entrepreneur.”
That means a person who starts his or her own business.
“I want to escape the monotony”, that is, repetitive stuff with no variation, “the
drudgery”, (dull, boring work), “and ultimately, the mediocrity” (being average, not very
good), “the mediocrity of the rat race.”
The rat race is an idiom that refers to how people are working in jobs trying to compete
with each other for money and material things.
“I don’t want to be just another cog in the wheel” – that’s another idiom which
means an unimportant part of something, like how in a machine in a factory there might
be many cogs; each one is necessary but can be replaced by another one.
“I want to chart my own course,” that is, I want to choose my own path in life,
“pursue my dreams, be the master of my own destiny.”
Destiny means where you go in life (the great things you’re supposed to do), sort of like
your life’s destination.
Now, this passage shows you how important vocabulary is.
Working on your vocabulary is not a separate activity from improving your listening skills.
Having a good vocabulary translates to having good listening ability.
So, take vocabulary learning very seriously if you want to be a good listener.
Develop a reading habit – read every day.
Yes, I’m telling you to read to improve your listening.
Read the newspaper, read magazines, stories, novels, whatever interests you.
When you come across new words, look them up in a dictionary, note them down.
Over time, you will notice great improvements in your listening skills.
Grammar can also pose a challenge when it comes to listening.
If you hear sentence structures that you’re not familiar with, you may not understand
what you’re hearing even if you know the meanings all of the individual words.
Let me share a couple of examples with you: “We have a flight in two hours.
We had better get going.”
What does the second part mean here?
Well, “get going” means to leave; it’s an idiom.
But, the grammar item you should know about is “had better”.
It means the same thing as “must” or “have to.”
So, it means, “we must leave now, otherwise something bad will happen.
We’ll miss our flight.”
If you didn’t know that structure “had better”, then you wouldn’t understand
Here’s another one: “I’d rather read a good book than surf the internet.”
What does it mean?
Well, it shows my preference.
Given two options: to read a good book or to surf (browse) the internet, I would choose
the first option.
I prefer to read a good book.
This preference is shown by the structure “would rather do A than B” – it means
I prefer A. One last example: “Not wanting to upset his hosts, he told them the food
It means he did not want to upset his hosts, so he told them the food was great.
But, that means the food was not great, and he chose not to tell the truth because he
didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the hosts.
Here, “not wanting to upset his hosts” is a participle clause, and it’s often used
to present a reason-result combination.
Now, there are many more sentence structures in English.
So, I suggest that you get a good grammar workbook.
There are many grammar workbooks on the market, and many of them come in multiple volumes
for different levels like beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
So, you can get the levels that suit you best.
Working through grammar exercises will make you more familiar with the common sentence
structures in English, and you will find that both when you read and when you listen, you
start to recognize these new structures more.
So, work on your grammar to improve your listening skills.
And last but not least, the many accents of spoken English often make it difficult for
us to understand native speakers.
An accent is how people from a particular region pronounce the sounds of a language,
and with English being a global language, there are many different English accents around
Even within the United States, you have the so-called standard newscaster accent (the
kind you hear on CNN).
But then you have the Southern accents (with their distinct twang) in states like Texas
or Alabama, which sound quite different from the accents you’d hear in New York or New
And don’t even get me started on the UK.
I know it’s the birthplace of the English language, but some of the accents there are
so thick they’re subtitled for American viewers in TV shows.
So, if as a non-native speaker, you find keeping up with all these accents difficult, you’re
Now, there is some good news.
Like I said before, it’s only the sounds that are pronounced differently in different
Other aspects of pronunciation like word stress, sentence stress and intonation are normally
consistent across accents.
For example, Americans say /ˈmɪ.səl/ while the British say /ˈmɪ.saɪl/, but notice
that the stress is on the first syllable in both.
Similarly, /ˈske.dʒuːl/ is the American pronunciation, while /ˈʃed.juːl/ is British;
again, the first syllable is stressed in both accents.
In the word /təˈmeɪ.toʊ/ (American) or /təˈmɑː.təʊ/ (British), the second syllable
is one that’s stressed /mɑː/.
However, there are some words with differing stress patterns like /ɡəˈrɑːʒ/ in American
English (stress on second syllable), and /ˈɡæ.rɑːʒ/ in British English (stress on first syllable).
Or /æd.vərˈtaɪz.mənt/ (stress on third syllable – /taɪz/) and /ədˈvɜː.tɪs.mənt/
(stress on second syllable – /vɜː/).
So, the best thing for you to do is learn the correct pronunciation of words.
Whenever you come across a new word, or even when you’re unsure of how to say a word
correctly, look it up in a dictionary.
I recommend that you pick a good dictionary like Cambridge, Oxford or Merriam-Webster,
and use the online version or the app.
These will let you listen to the correct pronunciation of any word you look up.
They’ll also give you the various pronunciations of the same word (like US vs. UK English),
so you’ll be aware of the differences.
Make it a habit to look up words in a dictionary and learn their correct pronunciation.
In the end, improving your listening skills is all about practice.
The more you listen, the more you feed your brain with listening material, the better
you will get at it.
So, use the tips in this lesson, practice listening a lot, and you will get great results.
If you liked this lesson, give it a thumbs up by hitting the like button.
Also, remember to subscribe to this channel by clicking the subscribe button to get my
latest lessons right here on YouTube.
Happy learning and I will see you in another lesson soon.