“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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