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How to learn to understand native speech?

As I’m taking part in #languageadvent2022 (24 gifts for your language till 24th of December) on VK, I come across tons of interesting resources. So far the most precious, I think, has been a series of channels for different languages called Easy… (language) – Easy EnglishEasy FrenchEasy SpanishEasy German and so on. Gosh, they are magnificent! I’m quite a collector of useful channels, so no idea how I missed these ones.

On Easy English there are a couple of hundred videos, including on grammar and vocab, but what caught my attention is Street Interviews and Brits on…

The idea is simple: the hosts talk to people in the street and ask them questions. So what we get is unprepared, rather casual speech, jokes, a variety of ages and accents. These videos are especially valuable because we can listen to ordinary people in the sense that their job may not be connected with influencing others through speaking (unlike bloggers/ actors/ TV show hosts/ podcasters who we so often turn to for listening practice and then might get upset because we can’t talk like them).

The videos on the channel are all with in-built subtitles. On the one hand, it makes our lives easier (for example, I really enjoyed Spanish and German videos that would have been well beyond my current level otherwise). But on the other hand, the opportunities to improve our listening skills are somewhat diminished, because we start to rely on the text a bit too much and don’t want to strain our ears. There’s a remedy for that, though – I’ll mention it below.

First, I want to outline how you could take away more from watching these Easy English videos.

1) Observe spoken grammar. Yes, that’s right. Spoken grammar is different from the written one, especially in its structure. Some of its characteristics are

  • Ellipsis – when we drop some elements, most often the auxiliary and subject at the beginning of a question and the subject in a sentence, e.g. “Ever been to England?” or “wouldn’t do it myself”.
  • Hesitations, false starts and simpler structures – it’s common to start with one idea, drop it in the middle and continue with something else, then add another bit to the idea, e.g. “But in my childhood, in… when I was a…I’ve played football myself, pretty much, until I had family and then it kind of, died out; my own activities.” or “And… actually, I don’t like rugby and cricket, I don’t… I don’t… I mean, I don’t… I don’t think that’s…well, I just think football is… the sport.” (
  • Fillers – when asked a question we often need time to think, so we fill it in with phrases like “oh, well.. Good question! I’d have to say…”
  • Vague language – sometimes we feel lazy to choose the exact words and can go with “this sort of thing”, “stuff” , “load of/ tons of”, “something like that”, “kind of”.
  • Backchannels – this is how we show that we’re listening to the other person, this includes the use of “yeah”, “okay”, “I see”, “uh-huh”, “oh”, “really”, “wow”, “ah”, “yes”

2) Look out for jokes =) There’s a lot of good-natured humour in these videos, very British =)

3) Notice spoken expressions, especially the use of phrasal verbs.

4) Make a list of questions being asked and answer these questions by yourself, also quickly and without preparation. Record yourself. Then watch again, note down some of the expressions you liked and answer the questions again, trying to use them.

Although, simply watching these videos in large quantities is extremely useful , at breakfast times, for example, developing noticing skills will help you make better progress in language learning. If you’ve noticed something, it’s easier to introduce it in your speech.

Now, back to developing listening skills. If you want to work on them and learn to understand fast connected speech better, you may turn to similar videos made by the Speakout authors (but they are shorter, on average 3-5 minutes because you’re to listen to them several times to do the exercises). The videos of all levels are available on YouTube:

They don’t look as fancy as the Easy English ones, because they are relatively old. But! They come with worksheets and without subtitles. The worksheets look like this:

The exercises really target those bits of speech which may be not easily recognisable in the fast flow of speech. So if you work through several videos with worksheets and do the exercises without looking at the subtitlesI guarantee that your listening skills will get a good boost =) I’ve observed it with many students of mine. And it is very different from listening to similar videos with subtitles. Because, for the exercises, you’ll need to listen very attentively and make a guess as to what’s being said (and then you can check yourself with the keys).

The worksheets, like the Student’s books, can be found online as well, but if you’re interested, it will be much easier to just send me a message and I’ll share the worksheets and keys with you (I have all levels except Starter, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t need it)).

Happy listening =)

Photo by Daniel Tong on Unsplash

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