Understand English Speakers

Under­stand Eng­lish Speak­ers- Why Some Peo­ple Take Longer

“How do I train my ear to bet­ter under­stand every­day speech between 2 Eng­lish speak­ers talk­ing infor­mal­ly and at nor­mal speed?”

“Why can’t I under­stand Eng­lish speak­ers when they are speak­ing at a nor­mal rate?”

“What do I need to do to under­stand what Eng­lish speak­ers are say­ing?”

All ques­tions you may have asked, or may have heard oth­ers ask.

I was recent­ly in Amer­i­ca and vis­it­ed a part where the peo­ple there speak quick­ly and don’t speak with the typ­i­cal accent usu­al­ly heard in Amer­i­can movies. At times I had dif­fi­cul­ty under­stand­ing what was being said to me even though every­one was speak­ing Eng­lish! It can be embar­rass­ing at times!  After I was there for a while and active­ly lis­ten­ing and attun­ing my ear to how things were being said, I did find it eas­i­er to under­stand the Eng­lish speak­ers around me. But as the title of this arti­cle says – some peo­ple do take longer to under­stand Eng­lish speak­ers.

Why Some Peo­ple Take Longer To Under­stand Eng­lish Speak­ers.

We all have ‘lan­guage lis­ten­ing cen­tres’ in the brain, and this includes the abil­i­ty to hear dif­fer­ent sounds in words, and the dif­fer­ence between sounds that are sim­i­lar. When we are young this neu­rol­o­gy is more open to hear­ing all sounds around us before we nar­row down our lan­guage lis­ten­ing abil­i­ty to only pay atten­tion to the sounds in our native language/s. We only pay atten­tion to the sounds we need to hear to under­stand the speak­ers around us, and to be able to repro­duce these sounds in our speech to talk. So in most peo­ple once we have learned our moth­er tongue/s this abil­i­ty ‘clos­es down’, and we focus on devel­op­ing oth­er neu­ro­log­i­cal path­ways for oth­er skills we need.

In some peo­ple this cen­tre ‘clos­es down’ more than in oth­ers, or in some peo­ple their lan­guage dis­crim­i­na­tion and lis­ten­ing abil­i­ties weren’t as devel­oped as they need­ed to be in the first place. This can result in cer­tain peo­ple tak­ing longer to under­stand what peo­ple are say­ing around them when they learn a new lan­guage such as Eng­lish. We often talk about some­one hav­ing a ‘good ear’ for a lan­guage or lan­guages, and this refers to peo­ple whose lan­guage learn­ing cen­tres are more devel­oped.

Tips To Under­stand Eng­lish Speak­ers Bet­ter

1)Lis­ten pur­pose­ful­ly to the train­er in our course, to pod­casts of Eng­lish speak­ers, to shows and movies with Eng­lish speak­ers. The more you lis­ten, the more you attune your ear.

2) Lis­ten to the same show, movie, pod­cast sev­er­al times and you will notice you are begin­ning to under­stand what they’re say­ing more eas­i­ly. Then take anoth­er show etc and do the same. The more you do this, the more it will car­ry over into under­stand­ing oth­er Eng­lish speak­ers bet­ter in your every­day sit­u­a­tions.  Active­ly lis­ten, lis­ten, lis­ten.

3) Watch some­thing with  the sub­ti­tles on at first so you under­stand and then take away the sub­ti­tles and active­ly lis­ten to what they are say­ing as you watch it again.  You could also do it the oth­er way around. Active­ly lis­ten to what the peo­ple in the show are say­ing. If you don’t under­stand, replay it with the sub­ti­tles switched on for the bit you didn’t under­stand, and then switch off the sub­ti­tles and lis­ten again. Attune your ear.

4) If you need to under­stand Eng­lish speak­ers using spe­cif­ic vocab­u­lary about cer­tain top­ics relat­ed to your work or inter­ests, you could lis­ten to pod­casts on these top­ics. If you lis­ten through head­phones it’s more focused. You can lis­ten to the same pod­cast a cou­ple of times and notice that you will under­stand a bit more the sec­ond time around.

If you are hav­ing trou­ble under­stand­ing Eng­lish speak­ers, you need to be patient with your­self and give your­self time to ‘attune your ear’ to the Eng­lish spo­ken around you, and this is why we also sug­gest you lis­ten to the train­ers in our accent reduc­tion cours­es through head­phones.  It focus­es your lis­ten­ing more and helps you attune your ear to Eng­lish speak­ers bet­ter at the same time that you’re improv­ing your Eng­lish pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

Best wish­es, Esther

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