5 Reasons Why You Don’t Understand Native English Speakers
The #1 question students often ask their English teacher is, “I understand everything you say but I don’t understand other native speakers… Why is that?” Here are some common reasons why and to keep in mind:
1. Native English speakers often “mumble”
Lots of native English speakers mumble when they talk. Mumbling is when a person speaks in a low, unclear manner. Why do people mumble? Mainly it’s lack of energy or lack of effort to communicate. Maybe the person is nervous or lacks confidence, or is tired or sick, or is not focusing on what they’re saying like when a person is multitasking.
Here’s a prank video showing you examples of mumbling.
Here’s a little presentation about how to avoid mumbling.
2. Native speakers often use of a lot of idioms and “colloquial expressions.”
An idiom is a common expression that means something different than it’s literal meaning. Examples of idioms include:
- Getting fired turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
- He’s got a chip on his shoulder.
- Would you cut me some slack?
- She let things get out of hand.
- See more
The use of idioms — just non-standard ways to say an idea – can confuse a non-native speaker.
3. They usually speak fast and have a lot of “ellipsis”.
How fast do native speakers speak? Well, there’s a wide range, but most native speakers speak about 180 words a minute – which is way faster than most English teachers speak. (I usually speak at about a 120 word a minute rate, which is comfortably slow.) Why do they speak fast? Usually we speak fast when we know our listener is already familiar with what we’re trying to say, so we don’t have to be so careful. Also, we can “leave out” stuff that the listener already knows – this is called “ellipsis.” So if you’re overhearing a native speaker, it will sound “fast” and “full of ellipsis” (missing information).
4. They usually don’t pronounce every letter
Native speakers usually talk quickly and don’t pronounce every letter when they talk which can make following them hard. This process is called “assimilation“. In presentation settings and classrooms however, native English speakers tend to speak clearer and pronounce more which makes it easier to understand them in these type of settings than on the street for example. Learn some of the “assimilation rules” and listening will be easier.
5. They have different accents depending on country and region
Many different countries speak English and of course have their own “English”. Even within English speaking countries, different regions have different accents — many different accents. Have you ever compared the English of someone from California with the English of someone from the South, like Louisiana, Mississippi, or Georgia? You are probably used to the English you hear in the movies from major cities but less familiar with English from other countries or other parts of the country. You are probably more familiar with American English than Irish English for example, just as you are probably more familiar with California English than Arkansas English. Believe it or not it’s even hard for native English speakers to understand different English accents so don’t be hard on yourself.
At the end of the day, improving your listening skills is like anything else… it takes time, effort, study, and practice. You need to listen to LOTS of English for many hours, day after day, year after year. That’s what it takes to finally understand movies, TV shows, and native English speakers easily.