Language myth #5: "People speak so fast and it is impossible to understand..."

Helping you to become a better listener with our new esl mp3 downloads

Listening to native speakers in any language can be extremely difficult; they speed at which they speak is rapid, and as language learners, it taxes our brain hugely to listen to long dialogues.  For me, the hardest has always been dialogue in films; fast speech combined with heightened emotions, colloquialisms and idioms is clearly a recipe for disaster!

Let's compare Spanish and English for example.  Most English speakers believe that native Spanish speakers are by far the faster speakers, but my Spanish friends say the same about English people.  So how can this be?  The answer is simple.  In fact, many studies support the fact that on average Spanish and English speakers tend to use approximately the same number of words per minute, although it is acknowledged that Spanish words tend to be comprised of more syllables.  The real obstacle to our listening, is our unfamiliarity to the individual words and our inability to separate them.  This often results in us hearing something completely different to what is actually spoken. 

So how do we combat this?  The answer is simple - practice. I know I bang on about practice all the time, but it really is the key to your success.  The more you listen to your target language, the easier it will become.  Follow my key tips:

  • Surround yourself with the target language.  Listen at every opportunity.  TV, radio, podcasts, films.  With this consistent exposure on day to day topics, you will find it increasingly easy to identify how these individual words sound when they all run together.
  • Use the subtitles.  Embrace them - there is no shame in using a transcript or subtitles whilst you are learning; they are a great tool to support you when used correctly.  Where possible, the subtitles should also be in your target language.  Make sure that you are still also focusing on listening and not simply reading. 

I have recently developed a series of mp3 clips to help English as a Second Language learners.  They are aimed at intermediate-advanced learners and they focus on phrasal verbs and expressions.  Our audio clips follow Alexandra Jones, a young singer, through a series of useful situations, such as moving house, looking for a job and meeting with friends.  Each pack contains the audio clip, plus everything you need to use with the MP3 audio clip: transcript, comprehension questions and definitions with examples.  Perfect to use on the go!  You can find a free sample pack and the full list of available dialogues here.

Spanish and French MP3 packs currently being developed and available shortly.