6 secrets to understand fast-talking Americans

By 10 September 2017 Video lessons 12 Comments
listening practice

Hey there, and welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll have fun becoming fluent in American English. I’m your English coach Christina, and today…. And today that introduction was maybe a little harder to understand than usual, don’t you think (watch the video, you’ll hear it’s fast!)

“Don’t you think?” Or in real spoken English, it sounds like /dontchuhtheen’/

Mmmm. Americans don’t articulate. They sound like they have a hot potato in their mouth. And that makes it difficult to understand Americans when they speak.

So today’s episode you’ll learn 6 secrets to understand spoken English better. Let’s go!

UNDERSTAND REDUCTIONS

Americans reduce a lot of sounds when they speak. For example, you read “Don’t you want to get a coffee later?”

Then we squish it all together when we speak, and it becomes /Duhwntchuh wanna gedduh coffee layder?/ We reduce “don’t you” to /duhwntchuh/, “want to” becomes /wanna/ and “get a” becomes /gedduh/.

You have to notice these to start understanding real English. To help you, I created an American Accent Survival Kit that gives you audio exercises for 12 everyday expressions. Go get it! Seriously. And it’s free!

DON’T DEPEND ON SLOW ENGLISH

If you want to understand the way Americans really speak, you have to listen to real spoken English. A lot of books to study English give you audio that is slow, or clearly articulated. In the real world, it’s not like that. I’m sure you’ve noticed!
So you need to also study English the way it’s really spoken. My video series “Tame The Hot Potato” helps you do that. For each video, you can get a worksheet to help you understand our everyday conversations in real spoken English.

WORK AT IT

How many of you depend on television series and movies to improve your English comprehension? I know you do. TV is good, and fun, but it’s not enough. You have to consciously work. Study. Do listening exercises.

The site elllo.org is one of my favorites for this, plus you can watch this video for an idea on how to use the site to improve your listening skills. And there’s also this lesson and this lesson where you can do some exercises.

AUDIO FLOOD

If you’re thinking “Christina, I don’t even understand ‘audio flood’!”, let me explain. A flood is like when it rains a lot, a lot, a lot, and there’s a lot of water everywhere. In the streets, the houses. That’s a flood.

You have to flood your brain with audio in English. This is where movies and TV series are useful. You can also listen to American radio stations with the smartphone app TuneIn Radio.

Or listen to podcasts in English. My favorite for learning English is All Ears English, because it’s English lessons, but in real spoken English. My favorite podcast just for listening is the Tim Ferriss Show, which is about optimizing your performance in general, including learning languages.

ACTIVE VS PASSIVE

You see, there’s a difference between active and passive listening. And you need both. Most students have too much passive listening *TV, ahem… movies, ahem…*  and that’s why their comprehension improves slowly.

You have learned a few activities earlier, and here’s one more active listening activities that will boost your comprehension AND your pronunciation:

Shadow reading. Here’s how you do shadow reading.
1. Get the transcript of the audio you listen to. For example, on elllo. You have the transcript of each audio on the site.
2. As you listen, you read with the speaker. Not listen and repeat. You match the speaker’s speed, intonation, everything.

It’s that simple! This makes you more conscious of how the words sound when they’re spoken at normal “American” speed.

LAUGH AT YOUR MISTAKES

You’re going to misunderstand things. Even we native speakers misunderstand things, like that famous Jimi Hendrix song “Scuse me while I kiss ?????” this guy? Oh ok! Or “the sky”? Hmm. This guy? Or the sky? This guy, the sky. This guy, the sky.

Or me in French, when, one time, Romain and I were listening to Lady Gaga (don’t laugh!), and Romain tells me in French “Jean-Paul a des CDs de ça dans sa voiture” Jean-Paul has CDs of this in his car.

Only the French expression for “some CDs”– “des CDs”–sounds a lot like “décédé”–died. So, for 3 seconds I was totally shocked because I understood that our friend Jean-Paul had died in his car from listening to too much Lady Gaga. It’s better to just laugh at yourself if you can.

And for those times when you really need to understand, watch these 2 lessons: “How to stop feeling embarrassed when you don’t understand” and “Reformulating to be sure you understand.”

They were my 1st 2 video lessons. Feel free to laugh at the quality. It’s pretty bad, but the lessons and the content are good.

Now, what about you?

How do you improve your listening comprehension skills?

Share your tips with the other Speak English Ambassadors, because you surely have some great ideas!

Be sure to get my American Accent Survival Kit to help you actively improve your listening comprehension.

OK Ambassadors, thanks for watching and I’ll see you next week!

Have fun,

Christina


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