TEACHING BLOG

How to understand native speakers – THE REALITY OF IT!

Recently I have read various articles on this topic in particular. So I thought it might be a good idea to include my own personal opinion about it based on my own personal experience as a teacher and a language enthusiast.

Many language learners focus the majority of their time on the study of grammar structures and new vocabulary. Later they wish to apply this new knowledge and use it is real life contexts, such as conversations with native speakers. But why do people have difficulties understanding?

When we listen to native speakers, we need to take into account many factors such as the individual differences in accent, pronunciation and intonation. It is normal for a native speaker to have a relaxed attitude towards this and they may in many cases drop the letter T or G… A good starting point is to look at silent letters and work from there. The important thing at first is to be patient and start little by little, but to also listen frequently to all types of recordings.

 

Practice

It sounds like an obvious point, but to understand a native speaker, you must have a few specific skills in place.

1. A good knowledge of language use (grammar and vocabulary)

2. An understanding of differences in pronunciation and relaxed intonation, commonly used by natives.

The main thing we hear about is how the need for  good knowledge of language is essential, and yes, I would have to agree with this point. Obviously if you don’t know a grammar structure or specific word, it can be very hard or even impossible to understand. BUT WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IS TO KNOW HOW TO APPLY WHAT YOU KNOW! If you don’t dedicate time to speaking with natives it will always seem difficult.

What can be difficult is to find the opportunity to speak to natives. Due to location or the people you know, it can be tricky to find people to speak to. Students of English need to take advantage of social media and language exchange groups such as CONVERSATION EXCHANGE to meet natives. A great way is to offer to exchange your language for English or even hire private teachers. The next thing is the level of language. The first times I spoke to Spanish natives I found it hard to even pick up simple phrases, even the words I thought I knew. They spoke so quickly and the difference in accents and pronunciation was a mine-field. It is very important to do two things: the first thing is to do graded listening. You cannot expect to listen to complex dialogues at the beginning, you must do it step by step. The second thing is the frequency. You must listen a lot, to all types of language. NEVER BE AFRAID TO REPEAT LISTENINGS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. It is all part of the learning experience.

SEE OUR POST ON Improving your listening

 

Suggested activities

1. Listen to songs you like. Review the lyrics (words). With the rhythm of music, the words are easier to understand.

2. Watch TV with subtitles (English with English subtitles). You should watch series and movies that you like and have preferably seen before.

3. Organize a language exchange.

– a tandem (exchange your native language for English)

– a learning partner (another student of English – studying at the same time)

So, in a nutshell, the way to understand a native is to speak to one, speak frequently with natives and practice language for real. You need to start off with simple conversations and be patient. If you dedicate enough time to it, you will improve listening skills.

 

EXAM PREPARATION

B1 LISTENING – Preliminary (B1) Cambridge ESOL

B2 LISTENING B2 ADVICE

C1 LISTENING FOR CAE (C1) – exam technique 

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FOR A FULL COURSE FOR THE PREPARATION OF CAMBRIDGE ESOL EXAMS SEE APPF.ES

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