Hey! How’s it going? “Why is it that I can understand some native English speakers and not others?” This is a really common question that I’ve been getting over and over from you, members of the Go Marcus English community. And I think it’s a really good question to discuss in this post.
Don’t you think so? So, why is it that you can understand some native English speakers, like me. I know that a lot of you while I’ve received many, many, many emails saying, “Oh my Gosh, this is so exciting!” “Gabby, I can understand every single word you’re saying.” Or “Wow, I can’t believe I understand 70% of what you’re saying.” “This is amazing. I’ve never felt this way before.” “I feel so good when I listen to your English, Gabby.” “But why when I listen to other native English speakers, can’t I understand them?”
So, let’s talk about that. Today, we’re going to solve this problem, and I’m going to share resources, suggestions with you on how to fix this problem. This is some big deal because you don’t want to feel left out of native English conversation. It feels horrible. It feels really horrible when you cannot understand some native speakers, but you can understand others because it makes you wonder if this your problem, is that the native speakers’ problem, is there something wrong with them or is there something wrong with you.
It’s embarrassing when you’re in a group of native speakers, and maybe you can understand some of them, but not others. Or maybe in the morning, you’re watching a Go Marcus English video or listening to the podcast, and then in the afternoon, you go to talk with your native English speaker friend or your colleges, and you can’t understand some of them. So, in this episode, we’re going to solve that.
So first of all, natives talk funny. Native English speakers have different ways of talking. I’m a native English speaker. I was born and raised in the United States of America, and I speak a very standard kind of American English. I was born in Minneapolis, so some people who are really, really good at English know that sometimes, there’s a tiny, tiny, incy-wincy hint of that kind of regional accent in my English.
But not so much. I tend to speak standard English because as I was growing up, I actually moved to different states. I lived in Minnesota until I was ten, and then Hawaii until I was thirteen, and then Indiana, until I was fifteen, and then Maine until I was twenty, Massachusetts until recently. So anyway, I’m a very good kind of even English. So anyway, my English is really clear, because I also have over ten years of experience teaching English as a second language, traveling the world and working with English-as-the-second language speakers.
Other native English speakers don’t have the same experience, they’re not English teachers. So, in order to communicate with people, they just speak like they would speak with other native English speakers. I’m speaking to you right now like I would speak to my native English-speaking friends. What I mean is I think I’m more aware of speaking clearly, I enunciate my words.
People that work on the radio or in broadcasting, or on TV also speak very clearly whether they’re English speakers or not. Other people that are used to working all day every day with other Americans speak pretty quickly, and they might combine their words more. So, for example, I might say, “Don’t you know how to understand native English?”, and they might say, “Don’t you know how to understand native English?” “Don’t you know?”
Which is also very Minnesotan of me to say. If you do know the difference in regional English, sometimes people make fun of Minnesotans saying, “Ya, don’t you know?” Anyway, back on track. So, the point here is that some native English speakers talk funny. But it’s not funny to other native English speakers. They’ll just say, “Okay, they have a strong southern accent or New York accent.
“Or maybe they use a lot of slang, or maybe combine their words a lot, like that example with “Don’t you know.” Or, for example, “What are you doing?”, they might say, “What’re you doin’ or “Watcha doing?” “What’s up?” So, we combine our words really often. So, natives talk in different ways base on their regional accent, based on where they grew up, based on just their style, whether they talk more casually, more clearly, professionally, whether they have experience in public speaking or radio or broadcasting.
So, there are a lot of different ways to speak. Also, if you think about people from different generations. Young people will use phrases, like “I can’t even!” And older people don’t tend to use phrases like that, that’s slang. Older people may speak less clearly, because they’ve got so used to speaking in their own way, their own accent, combining words together. So, these are some reasons why native can be difficult to understand.
Now, why is it difficult for you in particular to understand some native speakers? It could be because you are used to classroom English. But English classroom is possibly the most dangerous place for you to spend your time if you want to become fluent in real natural English. Danger! Danger! Get out of there! Come online and watch or listen to more Go Marcus English, because in the classroom, you have an English teacher who is used to working with English learners (and that’s a good thing), but you’re not exposed to real natural English as much as you’re out in the real world or online listening to authentic, real-life speed English.
So in the classroom, you’re also exposed to a lot of languages, such as “Open your book”, “Please read page twenty.”, “Do you have any questions?”, “Please do your homework.”, “Now we’re going to learn blah, blah, blah”. This is all classroom vocabulary. And some of it is common in everyday English life, but some of it is really specific to the classroom. For example, “You came to class late! Why are you late?” Or “Open your books.” This is a phrase you’re not going to hear very often in everyday English conversation.
Do you follow me here? I hope this is making sense. So, you need to be in an environment where you’re surrounded by the kind of English you want to speak. So, if you want to be an English teacher, you should spend a lot of time in the English classroom. You should also spend the time outside of the classroom. But being in a classroom will give you classroom English. If you want to be an English-speaking doctor, well, you should shadow an English-speaking doctor.
So, you need to make sure that you’re listening to and watching, and being part of the English word that you plan to spend your time in, the English world that you want to be part of. Does that make sense? I hope it makes sense. So, let me give you an example. I’m traveling now, I’m in Thailand. And I was with my friend Sofia. And Sofia works in finance, she’s not an English teacher.
So, it’s really funny, because every time Sofia tries to speak to the locals who speak English, they don’t understand. And then, when I interrupt and I speak to the locals in a way that I know they learned in their English class, they understand. For example, Sofia said, “Excuse me, should we fill out this form?”, but Thai woman didn’t understand. I said, “We write?”, and the Thai woman understood.
So, it was very basic English. That’s the kind of English that you learn in your English class. “We write?” But it’s not even correct, and it’s not showing you phrasal verbs, like “fill out” that a native English speaker, an American English, a speaker would certainly use more often than a basic verb like “write”. So, it’s really important to learn phrasal verbs and, of course, I have a course and I have an audio e-book about phrasal verbs that you can find out more about a marcusgriffin.com.
Now, what do we do about this problem? We know it may be difficult to understand some native speakers, because maybe it’s their fault, maybe they just don’t speak clearly. But maybe it’s your fault because you’re relying on your classroom English. Well, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It’s nobody’s fault. What we’re going to do is we’re going to concentrate on how we’re can improve your English so that you can understand without feeling left out or confused when you want to talk with native English speakers. So, first of all, forget what you learned in your English classroom.
Really, you have to begin with an open mind if you’re going to understand native English speakers, because it’s almost like a different language or a different dialect from what you learned in your English classroom, especially, if you learned English in your home country. And I’ve heard from many of the people in the Go Marcus English audience that their high school English classes were really bad.
Now, I don’t want to judge, I don’t want to say anything bad because I know a lot of great English teachers who are native speakers and non-native speakers of English, but I’m sorry if you had the bad experience in your English class. But you don’t have to let your past experience determine your future in English. So, forget your bad experience in high school English class.
Now we’re going to learn real-world English. So, of course, I would suggest that you would check with Go Marcus English course. Now, I’m not just saying this to promote my courses, but I’ve created my courses especially for you to understand American English speakers. So, you can find more at marcusgriffin.com. Immerse yourself in the English that you want to speak.
So, I’ve mentioned before, if you want to be an English-speaking doctor, see if you can go shadow a professional and an English speaking hospital. That’s one example. If you want to be a great conversationalist and make friends who speak English, perhaps there’s a hostel of an international meet up or an international association where you live where you can go and you can listen to how other people talk, and you can even join the conversation.
But you have to get out of your English classroom, and you have to get out of your comfort zone, and you have to push yourself, you have to go be in the environment that you want to be able to speak fluently in. Also, remember that English listening and English speaking are really different from English reading and writing. English pronunciation is crazy. And so, what you imagine you’re going to hear based on when you read a book is really totally different in real life.
So, I suggest that you train your ear and you try to listen to a lot of English and understand what you’re hearing as opposed to trying to translate it or trying to use dictionary right away. That’s kind of awkward if you’re in a conversation, and you pull out your dictionary and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. Just a minute. I need to look up this word.” And then, a conversation is going to pass you by, you’re not going to have time.
So, try to train your ear to understand what natives are saying. And there’s a lot of different ways to say the same thing like I mentioned with my example before with my friend Sofia. She said “fill out”, and I said “write” which is not exactly the same, but they are very, very similar. So, studying phrasal verbs can help you a lot with your understanding native English. And understanding pronunciation of American English, how we combine words together, and sometimes that changes the sound.
Like the examples I shared. What did I say? “What are you doing”, “Watcha doing?” or “Don’t you know?”, “Dontcha know?” And also being familiar with some of the advanced grammar, like “Don’t you know” is kind of negative question or “You do know, don’t you?” I was playing around with some of my English learning friends in Indonesia (earlier this year, I visited Indonesia), and I said, “Okay, are they really fluent?” I said, “Okay, let’s play a game. I’m going to challenge you with the hardest English that you’ve ever had to respond to.” And so I asked them a lot of different questions, like “You do know, do you?”, “Don’t you know?”, “Do you know?”
And so, being comfortable with those different ways that native speakers will ask questions is really important too. So, I don’t usually say that you should focus on grammar, but in this case, some advanced grammar can help. Just don’t become obsessed with the grammar, don’t worry about being perfect all the time, because you can fall into perfection paralysis which means that you want to talk until you are 100% sure that you have the perfect sentence or phrase in mind.
But become more and more familiar with grammar, with phrasal verbs and with how native speakers pronounce phrases, not just individual words, but words together in phrases and how they sound when the words are next to each other. All right. So, those are some things that you can do to improve your situation so that you never feel like you’re totally left out of a conversation, so you don’t feel like “What the heck? I’ve been studying English for ten years, and I still can’t understand a native speaker?”
I know how you feel. It doesn’t have to be that way. And it doesn’t have to take ten years. Give yourself a few months to really focusing on learning native English outside of the classroom, and I think that you’ll be really happy with your results. You can come to GoNaturalEnglish.com/7steps to learn more about the Go Natural method of learning English fluently.
So, that’s 7, the number 7, S, T, E, P, S. So, I hope to see you there, and I hope to talk to you again soon. Remember to share this post if you found it helpful. Thank you so much. I love you, guys. Have a wonderful day and keep up with your English speaking skills and studying, and fluency. And that is all. Have a wonderful day. Bye.