Back in the day, when I’d just come to Ireland and was still struggling with my spoken English, I was working in a massive warehouse offloading trailers all day long while at the same time trying to understand what my Irish supervisors and managers wanted from me.
Why did I just say “TRYING” to understand?
Well – guess what? – it’s not that easy to figure out what you’re told in English if the person in question speaks very fast AND with a distinct accent!
Needless to say, over the next few years I did learn to understand the local speech, and nowadays the Irish accent has become so familiar that I’d pick it out in a crowd immediately. The heck, I can even imitate English spoken in Ireland a little bit myself now, so I have to admit that over time things have gotten much, much better in terms of understanding English spoken by people from all over the world.
The reason I’m writing this article isn’t to conclude that you can just listen to fast English spoken by heavily accented local speakers and you’ll be just fine in a few years’ time down the line.
It’s quite the opposite actually – not only it could very well be that you DON’T learn to fully understand the local slang (and please bear in mind it’s not just limited to English spoken locally; all these problems may occur when you’re listening to FAST English in general!), but also you could pick up quite a few psychological issues along the line!
You may constantly strive to speak just as fast as natives and as a result you constantly stumble upon words and hesitate when speaking in English.
You may develop a habit of comparing your English with theirs which has a detrimental effect on your fluency.
And you may also find it very difficult to learn the English language to proficiency if you’re constantly forcing yourself to listen (or read) to something you only half-understand.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to persuade you that:
- Under no circumstances you should be exposed to English the way it’s spoken by natives in real life;
- You should only be exposed to English you understand 100%.
If that were the case, you’d never learn anything because by the very definition LEARNING implies acquiring something NEW, something you don’t know yet.
There’s a huge difference, however, between learning English by listening and repeating words, phrases and sentences that are EASY to understand AND listening to something you can only remotely recognize!
It’s NOT Possible to Learn Something If You Don’t Understand 90% Of It!
Have you got vivid recollections of specific moments from years ago while at the same time you may have forgotten what you were doing yesterday?
Everyone does, and here’s something I remember from more than 10 years ago: my supervisor was giving instructions to my team and more than half of people (we were all foreigners) just didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. It must have been quite obvious to him because here’s what he said to his colleague as he was leaving the scene: “Ah well, they’ll just learn to understand after a while!”
Fair enough, those foreigners who stayed in the country for a good few years did become quite good English speakers, but do you think it’s got anything to do with the fact they were bombarded with hard-to-understand English 24/7?
I really don’t think so, and here’s why:
If you don’t understand something, you just DON’T!
It’s not as if one fine day all that verbal content will simply start making sense; it all has to be learned bit by bit, and those who seem to be super-fast learners simply know more English which makes it so much easier for them to understand those few words they don’t understand.
Let’s imagine the following situation – I’m listening to a 10 word English sentence with 3 words I hadn’t heard before whereas you only understand 3 words out of 10 (it doesn’t really matter whether those are words you don’t know or you just find it hard to make out the speaker’s accent – one way or another, you just don’t UNDERSTAND them!).
To me, this very sentence would sound the following way:
To me, this *** sentence *** sound the following ***
For you it would be a totally different story:
*** me, this *** *** *** sound *** *** ***
Now tell me, my friend, can you see someone being on a fast learning curve when listening to something they DON’T UNDERSTAND?
I think it’s a total bullshit, and whoever tells you to listen to English which is spoken very fast and is also heavily accented, simply doesn’t understand what he or she is talking about!
Can You Actually LEARN By Listening To Fast English?
There are ways around this problem.
It’s not mission impossible to learn English by listening to something you totally don’t understand.
You have to make sure though, to constantly ASK PEOPLE TO EXPLAIN to you what was being said OR in case of watching some video content use subtitles.
Basically you have to make sure you get some audio or visual clues about the content you’re listening to, and you’d better be explained ALMOST EVERY SINGLE WORD you didn’t understand! It’s no use to you if you only understand 30% of what’s being said – all that English content is simply going to wash over your ears and you’ll only become frustrated and anxious as a result.
Is It Possible In Real Life Situations?
It is to a certain degree, but there’s only so many questions you can ask during a live conversation – you can’t constantly interrupt your native English speaking conversation partner to ask to explain every second word, and it would not really serve the purpose of teaching you new things because you’ll be forgetting all those new words almost instantly.
IT’S NOT POSSIBLE TO LEARN LOTS OF NEW ENGLISH CONTENT AT ONCE (and no – your brain isn’t a sponge)!
And you can introduce only so many new words and phrases into your vocabulary without becoming anxious and overwhelmed!
You have to acquire new English vocabulary and phraseology at a pace that’s realistic and workable.
There’s no point in:
- Watching films or online videos in English you find hard to follow;
- Trying to speak with natives you barely understand;
- Reading complicated literature hoping it will improve your English.
More often than not, all such practices will make you feel even worse; you’ll start thinking your English is really bad and your confidence levels will plummet.
Instead try the following:
- Expose yourself to easy-to-understand English content you can ENJOY and learn from at the same time!
Keyword – ENJOY!
It’s simple as that, my friend – if you believe you can learn English effectively by doing things you HATE, you’ll figure it out sooner or later for yourself it’s just not possible.
You have to ENJOY life through English, that’s the only efficient way to fluency, and I would love to tell my then supervisor that the reason my work colleagues learned to speak in English ISN’T because they were exposed to his fast speech all day long.
They learned to speak because they were spending a lot of time with other foreigners like me who could explain them things in a SLOW and easy-to-understand way ❗
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!