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  • Hi, I'm Oli.

  • Welcome to Oxford Online English!

  • In this lesson, you can learn how to understand fast speech.

  • You'll see how to understand fast English speakers more easily.

  • You'll also get a simple, step-by-step plan to improve your ability to understand fast

  • speech in English.

  • Before we start, you should take a look at our website: Oxford Online English dot com.

  • You can use our free English lessons to practise, including many listening lessons.

  • You can also take online classes to improve your English with our professional teachers.

  • But now, let's see one of the most useful things you can do if you want to understand

  • fast speech better in English.

  • Imagine a situation: you're going to the airport to meet someone who's arriving.

  • You've never met this person before, but you have a photo.

  • The photo does not look *anything* like the person you're supposed to meet.

  • What do you think?

  • Will you be able to recognise this person?

  • Obviously not.

  • There's a similar connection between understanding spoken language and pronunciation.

  • If you don't know how to pronounce words and sentences correctly, then you won't

  • recognise them when you hear them.

  • More specifically, if you don't know about the features of native English pronunciation,

  • then you'll find it difficult to understand any natural speech.

  • So, what are these 'features' of native English pronunciation?

  • What should you work on?

  • Let's look at an example: 'That house looks smaller from the outside.'

  • 'That house looks smaller from the outside.'

  • Even in this short sentence, a lot is happening.

  • First, the 't' at the end of 'that' is generally not fully pronounced.

  • In British English, it would be reduced to a glottal 't', which means that you start

  • pronouncing a /t/ sound, but you never fully release it.

  • In American English, the /t/ might also be softened to a /d/ sound.

  • Next, the words are all joined together.

  • 'House looks' sounds like 'how slooks'.

  • In fact, all of the words are linked, so that the whole sentence is pronounced as one sound.

  • 'From' is pronounced weakly, so you say /frəm/ and not /frɒm/.

  • The last two words—'the outside'—are linked by adding a /j/ sound in the middle:

  • 'the_/j/_outside'.

  • There are many pronunciation points to be aware of here.

  • We won't go into more detail, because we've covered many of these points in other videos.

  • However, here's the main point: if you don't know about these pronunciation features, you'll

  • struggle to understand *any* English speech.

  • You might feel like all speech istoo fast”.

  • Actually, the speed might not be the problem.

  • Connected, fluent speech can sound much faster if you're not aware of these pronunciation

  • features.

  • You don't need to be able to use these pronunciation features perfectly, but you should know about

  • them and be able to use them at least sometimes.

  • Then, you'll find it much easier to understand native English at any speed.

  • So, what should you focus on?

  • The most important points are weak forms, linking, stress, and schwa sounds.

  • There are others, but if you have a good understanding of these four pronunciation topics, your listening

  • ability will improve.

  • Check out our pronunciation videos for more details on these points.

  • If you want to go into more depth, we can recommend the Pronunciation in Use series

  • of books.

  • You can find links in the video description.

  • Working on your pronunciation is the most useful way to improve your ability to understand

  • fast English speech, but what else should you think about?

  • There's a proverb in English: you have to learn to walk before you can learn to run.

  • In the same way, many English learners who say they can't understand fast speech also

  • have problems understanding slower speech.

  • We hope it's obvious that if you can't understand slower speech well, then you'll

  • struggle with faster speakers.

  • This might sound too obvious.

  • However, many English learners realise that they have difficulties understanding fast

  • speech, but don't realise that they also have problems with slower speech.

  • First, you need to test your ability to understand slower speech.

  • To do this, you'll need four things.

  • One: you need a video or audio file which is not too easy and not too difficult.

  • English textbooks often have listening exercises which are carefully designed for a specific

  • level.

  • If you don't know where to find good listening materials, then use English textbooks as a

  • starting point.

  • We also have many listening lessons on our website: Oxford Online English dot com.

  • Two: you need a way to control the playback speed.

  • You can use a YouTube video, where you can use the speed controls to set the playback

  • speed to point seven-five or point five.

  • Or, you can use VLC media player, which has speed controls, so you can play something

  • at 90 per cent speed, 80 per cent, and so on.

  • VLC is probably better, because you can control the playback speed more precisely.

  • By the way, if you have other suggestions for tools to listen at variable speeds, let

  • us know in the comments!

  • Three: you need an accurate transcript of the audio or video.

  • For example, you could use a YouTube video which has subtitles, or a song where you have

  • the lyrics.

  • Be careful with YouTube subtitles, as many of them are automatically generated, and these

  • are not generally accurate.

  • Four: you need a pen and paper.

  • Your goal is to test how well you understand slow speech.

  • So, take your video or audio.

  • Adjust the playback speed until it feels easy to you.

  • Listen to a few sentences to get warmed up.

  • Next, pause the playback at the end of a sentence.

  • Listen to the next sentence, pause the playback, then write the sentence down.

  • Check against the written transcript.

  • If you're using a song, then work in lines instead of sentences.

  • At this stage, you need to be really strict with yourself.

  • Double check what you've written against the transcript.

  • Count your mistakes: every missing word is one mistake, every wrong word is one mistake,

  • and every extra word is one mistake.

  • If you want, try it right now!

  • It's a good experiment.

  • How many mistakes did you make?

  • If you made more than one mistake, then adjust the playback speed down, so that the audio

  • is slower.

  • Listen to the next sentence and do the same.

  • Repeat until you find a speed where you can write down the sentence you heard without

  • making more than one mistake.

  • This is an important step, because you need to build a base for your listening skills.

  • That means you need to be able to hear every word, and you need to be able to hold a sentence

  • in your head after you've heard it.

  • Again, it's essential to be strict with yourself and pay attention to small details.

  • Actually, even making one or two mistakes is a problem.

  • Your aim is to write down the sentences without making any mistakes.

  • If you can't do this even at slow playback speeds, then you need to find something easier

  • to listen to.

  • Find something which you can understand at 70 per cent or 80 per cent of full speed.

  • Remember that 'understand' means that you hear every word.

  • It's not enough for this to understand the general meaning.

  • You need to hear every single word perfectly.

  • Take your time on this practice, and get it right.

  • Once you're comfortable with this, you're ready for the next step.

  • Actually, if you've done the exercise from part two, then you've already done the most

  • important work.

  • To understand faster speech, you do the same things, but increase the playback speed gradually.

  • Listen to one sentence, write it down, and check it carefully against the written transcript.

  • If you can get three sentences in a row 100 per cent right, then adjust the playback speed

  • up and continue.

  • On the other hand, if you make more than one mistake in a sentence, then adjust the playback

  • speed down.

  • You have the same goal: you need to hear every single word.

  • Try to get to a playback speed of 120% or 130%.

  • If you can hear every word even at these speeds, then find something more challenging to practise

  • with and start again.

  • For this, you need to be patient.

  • If you do this regularly, you *will* make good progress, but your progress will not

  • be a straight line.

  • There will be days and weeks where you don't feel like you're getting anywhere.

  • Don't give up!

  • With any work like this, it's better to do it little and often.

  • Start by doing ten to fifteen minutes of practice every day.

  • Do this for a week or so.

  • If you're feeling motivated, go up to half an hour a day.

  • Don't try to do too much; doing it regularly is the most important thing.

  • As with all listening practice, you should try to use a variety of listening sources.

  • Listen to different sources, on different topics, and with different speakers and accents.

  • This is the core of your training.

  • If you do this regularly, your ability to understand fast speech will improve quickly.

  • However, you have to be consistent, and you have to be strict with yourself regarding

  • mistakes.

  • Otherwise, you won't get such good results.

  • There's one more point you should think about to understand fast speech better.

  • There's a feeling you get sometimes when you're listening to a foreign language.

  • It's that feeling when everything is coming too fast, there are too many words you don't

  • know, and you're fighting to keep up.

  • But, at some point things break down, and what you're hearing turns into soup.

  • You know the feeling?

  • It's common.

  • It's what happens when there is too much for your brain to process.

  • There are no quick fixes; there aren't any magic solutions, and you've already seen

  • the most important points you can use to deal with this.

  • But, there's one more thing you can do.

  • Vocabulary is a big part of understanding.

  • In particular, when you hear a word you don't know, it often takes your attention.

  • You start wondering what it was and what it means.

  • While you're paying attention to that unfamiliar word, you can't pay attention to what you're

  • hearing, so you miss more things.

  • This makes it more difficult to tune back in.