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  • Hi, I'm Gina.

  • Welcome to Oxford Online English!

  • In this lesson, you can learn how to understand native speakers in English.

  • Many English learners find it difficult to understand native speakers, even after years

  • of study.

  • This can be frustrating and demotivating!

  • However, there are some simple things you can do to improve your English listening and

  • make it easier to understand native English speakers.

  • In this lesson, you'll see five simple tips you can use to understand native English speakers

  • more easily.

  • Look at this sentence:

  • I am from France.

  • Imagine you're talking to someone.

  • How would you say it?

  • Would you say this sentence with the contraction?

  • I'm from France.

  • Or would you say the full form?

  • I am from France.

  • Now, think about these sentences:

  • He has already told me.

  • I would like to see that film.

  • They will not be here until tomorrow.

  • All of these sentences can be contracted.

  • Can you see how?

  • He's already told me.

  • I'd like to see that film.

  • They won't be here until tomorrow.

  • Would you pronounce the contractions, or not?

  • Think about it, and be honestit's not a test!

  • Here's the problem:

  • Many English learners don't use enough contractions when they speak.

  • They use the full form, for example he has instead of he's.

  • If you don't use contractions when you speak, it will be difficult to understand them when

  • you're listening.

  • Why is this a problem?

  • Native speakers almost always use contractions when they're speaking.

  • If you find it difficult to understand contractions, you'll always have problems when you're

  • trying to understand native speakers.

  • So what's the solution?

  • Very simple: use contractions more in your speech.

  • To do this, choose a simple topicfor example, your familyand record yourself speaking

  • for one minute.

  • Listen to the recording and try to find any places where you could have used contractions,

  • but didn't.

  • Then, repeat the exercise, and try to use more contractions.

  • Then, try again with a different topic.

  • If you use contractions yourself, it'll become easier to understand them.

  • Here's a simple question in English which is often difficult for English learners to

  • understand:

  • What are you doing Why do so many people find it difficult to

  • hear this question correctly?

  • Let's look.

  • First of all, the letter 't' in the word what is usually not pronounced.

  • It changes to a /d/ sound, or it's reduced to a glottal 'stop' 't'.

  • Secondly, the word are is not pronounced /ɑː/.

  • It doesn't rhyme with 'car' or 'far'.

  • It changes to a very short sound: /ə/.

  • Next, the word you is not pronounced /jʊː/.

  • It doesn't rhyme with 'too' or 'do'.

  • It also becomes a very short sound: /jə/.

  • Finally, the words are not pronounced with spaces in between.

  • The whole question is pronounced like one long word.

  • So, the question which is written:

  • What are you doing?

  • Sounds like:

  • Whaddayadoing?

  • Of course, if you think are should be pronounced /ɑː/, and you should be pronounced /jʊː/,

  • and so on, you'll expect to hear:

  • What are you doing?

  • And of course, you probably won't understand the natural pronunciation:

  • Whaddayadoing?

  • What can you do about this?

  • Here are two suggestions:

  • One: learn about weak forms.

  • Weak forms are words which have a different pronunciation in a sentence.

  • Learning about weak forms can show you that there is some logic to English pronunciation,

  • even though you might not think so!

  • Two: pay attention to how people speak.

  • Don't think about what you read in your English textbook.

  • Listen to how people pronounce words and sentences in real life.

  • You'll realize that there's a big difference between textbook English and natural English.

  • Another good exercise here is dictation: choose something to listen to, like a podcast or

  • a YouTube video, which is not too difficult.

  • Listen to one minute, and try to write down everything you hear.

  • Pause as often as you need to.

  • This way, you can train yourself to follow native English speech.

  • Look at a question with a word missing.

  • What's the missing word?

  • ________ you ready?

  • If you're an average English student, you said that the missing word is are.

  • That's the correct answer, but it's also not the best answer.

  • What?

  • How can the correct answer not be the best answer?

  • What are we talking about?

  • Actually, the best answer is that there are no words missing.

  • You can just say,

  • You ready?

  • In spoken English, you don't need to say are.

  • In fact, you can make the question even shorter and just say,

  • Ready?

  • Native speakers very often leave out words like this.

  • Again, if you're expecting to hear a full question, these shorter questions can be confusing.

  • So when can you leave words out like this?

  • In yes/no questions which have the word you, it's often possible to make the question

  • shorter.

  • For example:

  • Have you finished?

  • Are you going?

  • Do you want to come?

  • All of these questions can be shortened:

  • You finished? or Finished?

  • You going? or Going?

  • You want to come? or Want to come?

  • So, what should you do?

  • Try to use these shortened questions when you speak.

  • Like all of this advice, you need to use it yourself.

  • If you use it when you speak, it'll be easier for you to understand others who speak in

  • this way.

  • Remember that native speakers very often shorten questions like this.

  • Here's a question:

  • Do you need to understand every word to understand what someone is saying?

  • What do you think?

  • Very often, English learners focus on the parts they don't understand.

  • That's natural, but it's not always helpful.

  • To answer our question: no, you do not need to hear and understand every word to understand

  • someone's message.

  • Imagine that you are in the kitchen with your friend, who is cooking something.

  • Your friend asks you a question, and you hear:

  • Can you (mumble mumble)?

  • Okay, so you didn't hear or understand the full question.

  • But that's often not a problem.

  • First of all, you heard the words can you.

  • So you know that your friend wants you to do something.

  • Secondly, you're in the kitchen, cooking.

  • Whatever your friend wants, it's almost certainly connected to that.

  • Probably, your friend needs you to help with something, or give them something.

  • By using the context, you can often understand someone without hearing every word.

  • But, but, but, you say, that's not really understanding native speakers!

  • I want to understand native speakers, not guess what they mean.

  • Actually, native speakers do this too.

  • You probably do it in your own language, so there's no reason not to do it in English.

  • Don't think: “I don't know the word, so I can't understand the sentence.”

  • It's not true.

  • And, if none of this works, use another simple trick: ask!

  • Ask the person, “What did you say?” or, “Can you say that again?”

  • Again, native speakers do this all the time.

  • There's no reason you shouldn't do it, too.

  • Often, English learners are afraid to ask someone to repeat something, or to admit they

  • don't understand.

  • But, if you do this, you have no chance to understand, and no chance to communicate.

  • Remember: no one understands everything everyone says, and it's completely natural to ask

  • someone to say something again.

  • Let's look at one more important tip.

  • Here's a question: what does 'native English' sound like?

  • Here's another question: do you prefer the sound of British English, or American English?

  • Actually, those are both terrible questions, which make no sense.

  • Do you know why?

  • The reason these are bad questions is: there's no such thing as 'British English'.

  • If you think about 'British English', you probably imagine someone speaking like

  • this.

  • But most British people don't sound anything like that.

  • It's the same for American English: people from different places and different backgrounds

  • will speak in different ways.

  • Then, of course, there are many other countries where English is officially the first language:

  • Ireland, Zambia, Australia, Kenya, Canada, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Belize, South

  • Africa, Singapore, and many more.

  • The world of English is much bigger than just the UK and the US, and you'll be a better

  • English speaker (and listener) if you realise this.

  • Unfortunately, many English learners react negatively when they hear a native speaker

  • speaking in a way that they're not used to.

  • They say things like,

  • “I don't like that person's pronunciation.”

  • That person doesn't speak good English.

  • I prefer British English.”