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How to Understand Fast English Better

Do you wish you knew how to understand fast English better? 

You know those moments when someone says something, and you find yourself asking, “Wait, WHAT did they just say?!” 

And when people speak quickly, it can feel impossible to understand. 

But what if I told you there was a better way to understand fast English?

In this blog post, I’ll share some tips on how to understand fast English better, plus I’ll give you a quiz at the end so you can put what you learn to the test.

Let’s get into it!

TRANSCRIPT

Podcast intro:

Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar. And this is episode number 327. And today we are going to talk about fast English.

Hey everyone, it’s Hadar. Thank you so much for tuning in for another episode. So a few weeks ago I published an episode about why you need subtitles. And it got viral, a lot of people commented for all sorts of reasons, which was really cool and interesting. But one of the things that a lot of people mentioned was that it was hard for them to understand native speakers, especially when they spoke fast.

And by the way, if you wanna check out that episode, it’s episode number 311 on the podcast, about why you still need subtitles. And yes, the fact that it feels like native speakers speak really, really fast is one of the reasons, or two other reasons, that I cover on that episode, so go check it out.

But today I wanna go deeper – dig deeper, as I like to say – into this concept of fast English. Because I wanna talk about why it feels like we always lose track of someone who is speaking fast. And is it really fast, or is it the fact that words are connected and reduced, which affects how we perceive the words? And I kind of gave you the answer. Well, yes, this is a big element of that. But also some people do speak fast.

So, it’s not just about understanding those reductions, it’s also training our ears to listen differently, and this is what this episode is about. And I hope you’re going to enjoy it. And if you do, don’t forget to rate and review the podcast. And you can also reach out to me at @hadar.accentsway on Instagram because I’m available there as well.

All right, let’s listen to today’s episode.

Video transcript:

Do you sometimes feel like it’s really hard for you to understand native speakers because they speak so freaking fast? Or maybe you want to start speaking a little faster and to play a bit more with your rhythm so we can sound more natural and more at ease when speaking. If that is the case, then this episode is absolutely for you because we are going to talk about fast English.

Not understanding native speakers because it feels like they speak fast, is a challenge that a lot of non-native speakers experience. And I wanna give you some tools to help you deal with that. And along the way, level up your own fluency, pronunciation, and confidence.

In this episode, I’m going to first talk about why it’s so hard to understand native speakers when they speak fast. Then I’m going to give you some tips and exercises that you can do to help you develop that and improve, and understand fast speakers better. And lastly, I’m going to share a quiz to see if you can actually understand fast English. And if not, then everything I’ll be sharing today is going to be extremely helpful for you to improve that.

If you are new to my channel, then hi, my name is Hadar. And I am here to help you speak English with clarity, confidence, and freedom. And all the things that I share with you here on my channel are things that I have learned on my own. And I am excited to share that with you so you can have an easier way in reaching confidence, clarity, and freedom. Check out my website for more at hadarshemesh.com. Or you can find me on social media: Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

All right, so let’s get started. Why is fast English so hard to understand? There are a few reasons for that. First, because of reductions. In English, some sounds and words are reduced, so what you expect to hear is not exactly what you are going to hear.

For example, if we’re thinking of the phrase ‘what do you want?’, it’s not ‘what. do. you. want?’ When we think about it in writing, it’s very clear. But when we hear it, it sounds just like one mumbled word: whadaya-want? whadaya-want? ‘I am not going to go’ -> ‘I’m not gonna go’. ‘I’m not gonna go’. So in English, everything is reduced and connected.

Now, I talk a lot about the reasons for it. It’s the prosody of English where less important words, AKA function words, are reduced to allow the important words to stick out. Like content words: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Also, when we think of the flow of English, we see that words are connected together and grouped together in thought units, right, everything within the sentence until there is a comma or phrase or a clause. And everything there is connected, and that connection makes it hard for the brain to understand, especially if you’re used to reading the language and you’re expecting to hear the words separately.

So all of a sudden, It’s not separate when you hear it. And words that you thought you knew, like the word ‘of’ or ‘from’ all of a sudden sound like ‘uhv’ and ‘fr’m’. And ‘do’ sounds like ‘duh’. And the brain refuses to connect what you hear to how you perceive the word that has a completely different vowel.

Another reason why it’s important, it’s because it’s going to teach you how to listen and not just hear. Okay? There is a difference between hearing where you hear basically everything and how you’re listening, which is what you’re focusing on, or how you make sense of what it is that you’re hearing. This type of work is going to help you understand how to listen, where to focus, how to sort out all the things that are not necessary, and only focus on what matters. And again, that as well is going to help you become a better communicator.

All right, so now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Okay, Hadar, I want to improve my ability to understand fast English and fast speech, and to understand native speakers better. What do I do?” So to improve your ability to understand fast speech, here are a few things you can do.

First, you need to expose yourself as much as possible to spoken English. So, listen to audiobooks, listen to podcasts, listen to movies and TV: without subtitles, with subtitles, with the script. Without the script, it doesn’t matter. But you need to start training your ears to listen as much as possible.

I also recommend to listen to different speakers who speak in different dialects because that’s how real life is. And you have a lot of different speakers, they don’t all sound like the standard. And the more you expose yourself, you increase your ability to understand all different people around you: with different native accents and with non-native accents. And remember, all of that turns you into a great communicator.

The next thing, and I’ve spoken a lot about this: if you want to improve your listening, it really has to go through your mouth. So practicing your own pronunciation, practicing reductions yourself, learning prosody – which is intonation, rhythm, stress, all of that, the melody of the language, how we reduce words. When you learn and practice it yourself, your brain is much more likely to remember it, to understand it, and then for you to be able to hear it.

Now, when you learn pronunciation and prosody, focus on reductions, focus on the difference between the stressed words and the unstressed words. Sounds are important, but understanding how you structure an entire sentence, how everything is grouped together, how words are connected is critical for your ability to understand other speakers, and in particular, fast English.

So now it’s quiz time. I’m going to play an audio and you are going to try to figure out what they say. And then we’re gonna analyze together and break it down piece by piece. Okay. Open up your ears and let’s listen to the clip.

I’m going there. I’m in their faces. I’m talking to them. Some of them may follow me or know me already, but now I’m sitting there talking about Holocaust education and they’re relating to it.

Okay, let’s play it bit by bit. Okay? Let’s listen to the first chunk. I’m going there. I’m going there. I’m going there. What did she say? Let’s play it again. I’m going there. ‘um’ -> ‘I am’. ‘I’m going there’. ‘going there’. Notice that the ‘going’ is the stressed word, so it’s higher in pitch, it’s more emphasized. So when we listen, we listen to the keywords and we allow our brain to fill in the gaps.

Second chunk. I’m going there. I’m in their faces. ‘in their faces’. ‘in their faces’. ‘in their faces’ – right in front of them, they can’t avoid her. That’s what she means: I’m in their face. In their faces. In their faces. By the way, if you want, you can always slow down the speed of this video, so it makes it easier for you to do this part of the process.

I’m in their faces, I’m talking to them. Okay, what did she say here? Let’s listen again. I’m talking to them. I’m talking to them. So here we have quite a serious reduction. I’m sure you can hear the word ‘talking’. And then again, your brain can start filling up the gaps, right? Talking to whom, right? ‘Talking to them -> talkin’ d’th’m. talkin’ d’: so the T of the ‘to’ becomes like a ‘d’ sound. talkin’-d’th’m. The word ‘them’ that we expect to hear with a strong TH and then an E sound also reduces – talkin’ d’th’m.

Some of them may follow me or know me already. What did she say here? follow me or know me already. ‘Follow me or know me already’. ‘Follow me or know me already’. But see how everything is connected: faa-low-me-(y)’r-no(w)-mee-yaa-reh-dee. The words are completely reduced, you can barely hear it. And you might think that she’s saying a completely new word – ‘nomier’. What’s ‘nomier’, right? But it’s not a new word. You know these words. Try to break it down and try to understand what are the key words that are stressed. And trust your brain to be able to fill in the gaps if you’re not sure of the words that you actually heard.

But now I’m sitting there talking about Holocaust education and they’re relating to it.

Okay, what did she say here? But now I’m sitting there talking about Holocaust education and they’re relating to it. She really slowed down when she said the words ‘Holocaust education’, these are big content words and they’re absolutely stressed: Holocaust education. But what happens before? Let’s listen.

Now I’m sitting there talking about Holocaust education. ‘But now I’m sitting there’. ‘there’ was completely reduced. ‘But now I’m sitting there’. ‘now’ it’s stressed, so it’s clear: but NOW I’m sittin’ there. Now I’m sitting there talking about Holocaust education. Now notice what happens to the word ‘about’, I don’t think I can even say that: talking #$%@. You’re talking about Holocaust education. ‘talking about Holocaust education’. It is so reduced! She literally skips this word and it is okay cuz it’s still clear: ‘talking about Holocaust education’.

Now, I wouldn’t encourage you to do that yourself. I don’t think that we need to completely reduce those function words. But I need you to understand that this is what happens. And I want you to start recognizing it and also trust your common sense when trying to figure out what the person’s saying.

Holocaust education, and they’re relating to it. The last part, she slows down:’ and they’re relating to it’. ‘and they’re relating to it’.

All right, let’s look at another clip.

And it was on, it’s like an episode on Netflix where like they basically compete and they eat the ghost peppers, and then they talk about this thing that happens to their stomach after. It’s, like, a lot.

What did she say? I know it’s out of context, which makes it harder, but let’s listen again.

And they eat the ghost peppers and then they talk about this thing that happens to their stomach after.

And now let’s slow down the speed.

And they eat the ghost peppers. And then they talk about this thing that happens to their stomach after.

It’s still a little fast: ‘and then they talk about’, ‘and then they talk about’.

So then they talk about this thing that happens to their stomach after.

‘this thing that happens’. ‘this thing that happens’, ‘this thing that happens’, ‘this thing that happens’.

to their stomach after. ‘to their stomach after’. ‘to their stomach after’. Can you hear it? t’their’ – that is absolutely reduced: t’their stomach after. Because it is so reduced, no wonder it’s hard to understand. Let’s listen to the entire chunk again.

And they eat the ghost peppers, and then they talk about this thing that happens to their stomach after.

All right. Now, I wouldn’t encourage you to say it at that speed, you don’t have to. But it’s a listening practice, and we need to start paying attention to the keywords and start recognizing what are the parts that are unclear. And as you can see, usually the parts that are a little less clear are the reduced parts. And those parts that connect keywords, but it sounds like it’s just a continuation of the previous word or the beginning of the next word, and this is why it starts clashing and messing with our brain.

All right, last clip for today.

<audio>

I’m gonna give this to you as homework, okay? (Just kidding 😉

All right, that’s it. So today we’ve learned what is fast English and why it is so hard to understand native speakers who speak fast. Then we learned why it’s important to improve that. Then I gave you some tools and tips on how to improve that on your own. And finally, I shared a quiz where we tried to analyze fast English. So, how did you do? Let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this video, then I have a series of additional videos about prosody, intonation, listening, fast speech, and more that I think you are going to love. So check all the links in the description below this video.

Thank you so much for being here. If you enjoyed this video, please hit ‘like’ and subscribe if you haven’t yet. And come check out my website because I have a lot of free stuff for you at hadarshemesh.com.

All right. Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. And I will see you, whether you speak fast or slow, next week in the next video.

The InFluency Podcast
327. How to understand Fast English (plus a quiz!)
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Why is it Hard to Understand Fast English? 

As you hear in movies, TV shows, and natural conversations, fast English can be tough to understand, especially if you’re new to the language.

Understanding fast English can be tough because there are so many different ways people speak it. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what words they’re saying or what they really mean.

That’s why knowing the difference between hearing and listening is essential. 

We’ll get into that next. 

Hearing versus Listening

Understanding the difference between hearing and listening is essential to improve your comprehension skills.

Hearing refers to the passive act of perceiving sound while listening involves active engagement and comprehension. 

To truly understand fast English, you need to develop effective listening skills, which require concentration, focus, and the ability to interpret the meaning behind the words.

When it comes to listening, there are a few reasons why it can be hard to understand fast English speakers. 

Let’s take a look:

1. Reductions: English is pronounced differently than it’s spelled. So often, a sentence will sound entirely differently from what you’re expecting to hear. 

For instance, “What do you want?” might sound like “wadaya-want?” That’s because every word in spoken English isn’t pronounced clearly, and some words are reduced. 

Tip: By watching videos like common reductions and connected speech in English, you can train yourself to be an active listener, making it easier to understand others.

2. Lack of Exposure: In school, we learn a lot of reading and writing but less spoken English. 

The more exposure you have to spoken English, the easier it is to understand. By exposing yourself to different accents from around the world, you increase your listening skills and become an even better communicator.

💡 Tip: Actively engage in conversations, or listen to audio recordings, or podcasts. Concentrate on understanding the context, tone, and intention behind the words rather than just focusing on individual words.

3. Intentional Practice: Intentionally practicing your listening is a great way to improve! You can practice along with me in this video or practice on your own by finding a video and transcribing what the person is saying. 

💡 Tip: Compare what you wrote with the subtitles in the video to see how accurate you were, and if you missed something, try to understand why that was.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful and will try some out as part of your practice. Once you get going, you’ll find yourself naturally listening to the way things are pronounced and using them in your speech.

Ready to get started understanding fast English better? Next up: the quiz!

Quiz: How to Understand Fast English Better

Now it’s time to put your new skills to the test with our quiz!

Click here and start listening at 5:55. 

I’m going to play an audio, and you will try to figure out what they say. Then we’ll analyze it together and break it down piece by piece.

Try your best and see how well you can understand fast English.

Wrapping It Up

Improving listening skills in English is a journey that requires practice! 

But, by using these techniques consistently, you can train your brain to process and understand spoken English more effectively. 

By familiarizing yourself with reductions, exposing yourself to spoken English, and practicing intentionally, you’ll become a pro at understanding fast English in no time. 

How do you practice your listening skills in English? Do you have other tips that worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!

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10 Responses

  1. This is fantastic. I am trying to engage an Arabic speaking second language 11 year old in learning English. I have no resources or tools. She is a very smart student reading English at a first grade level who is silent in school. What is she hearing? Now I know to slow down, ask simple questions, engage in a dialog as we begin this journey. School offers mixed classes with no direct support. You are going to be our life line to Rama’s future. Gold.
    To teach me to help her…

  2. Thank you, Hadar. You do great and you are the greatest in teaching (i.e. sharing …)

  3. I would like to speak Englis very Well but sometimes I do not understand I liked the introducción thanks for the mail.

    1. Hi Vladimir, Karen here. Shadowing is definitely a great strategy to improve your English, we highly recommend it

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