Speaking Exercise: Understanding English Speakers

One reason why it’s difficult to understand spoken English is because native speakers don’t stress grammar words. This means that it’s difficult to hear words like “to”, “can” or “will” in a sentence.

Here are some things that will help you understand English speakers.

Use your knowledge of English grammar
This helps with understanding conditional sentences, articles, prepositions and auxiliaries. Here are a couple of examples for you:

“If you want to buy a house, you’ll need to save for a deposit.”
The sentence is a first conditional, which means that you have if + present followed by ”will”. But in this sentence, the ”will” is abbreviated to ”you’ll” and the final ”l” blends into the ”n” of ”need”.

“I’ve been there before.”
You need an auxiliary (has / have) to form a present perfect (or ”had” to form a past perfect) but in this example, the ”have” is abbreviated to ”ve” but the ”v” sound blends into the ”b” of ”been”.

Listen for the schwa
The schwa is the “uh” sound – the smallest sound in English. It’s very often the vowel sound you hear in unstressed words. Here are a couple of examples:

“I’ve got a couple of calls to make.”
”A couple of calls” can sound like ”a couple a calls” because the ”of” is not stressed and it’s said quickly. The final ”f” of the word ”of” blends into the ”c” of ”calls” so you can’t really hear it.

“I’m at work tomorrow.”
For many British English speakers, the ”at” in this sentence doesn’t rhyme with ”hat”. Instead, we drop the ”t” and the ”a” becomes a ”schwa” sound (like ”uh”).

“Do you want to go out tonight?”
The ”to” doesn’t rhyme with ”do” in this sentence. Instead, it sounds more like ”tuh” but because it’s unstressed and it comes between two verbs (”want” and ”go”) it almost disappears.

Remember phrases
Some phrases are automatic, fluency phrases, which don’t change. Here’s an example for you:

“I’d like a cheese sandwich please.”
The ”would” is abbreviated to ”d” but it blends into the ”l” of ”like”. If you say it yourself quickly, you can feel your tongue touching the top of your mouth to make ”d”, and then staying there to make the ”l” sound. For this reason, the ”d” in ”I’d” almost disappears.

Understanding English Speakers

Choose the correct answer.