Understanding native speakers is one of the most difficult tasks to achieve in language learning. It’s a major obstacle for most people in their language-learning journey. There comes a time when you think you’re making excellent progress; you can understand most written content and you have a decent grasp on the language, but then you hear someone speak and you don’t understand a single word. This is a difficult realization for everyone, but it’s very important not to let yourself get down. Depending on the reason you can’t understand native speakers, you may be not as be as far off as you think. In this post, we’ll look at the various reasons you may not understand and we’ll give you a few tips to improve your skills.
Naturally, one of the main reasons why you may not understand native speakers is that you simply don’t know enough of the words. Sure, this may sound obvious, but it’s important to make the distinction between not grasping the spoken words and not knowing the words altogether. It can be hard sometimes to know if you didn’t understand something because it was said too quickly or if you simply didn’t know the words. Would you have been able to understand if it was said slower? Or if it was written down? There is something you can do that will give you a better idea of your general skills.
If you watch a movie or television episode in your new language and don’t understand much, try to put on the subtitles in your target language. How much more do you understand when you can read what is being spoken aloud? If you don’t understand much more with subtitles, it’s a clear indication that you need to learn a lot more vocabulary before you can watch that particular show. It might be a good idea to watch something more simple or to learn more vocabulary through reading, flashcards or by using a language program like OUINO.
You generally have to know more vocabulary when listening to native speakers than when you read. If you understand about 50% of the words when you read, it may be just enough to get a general idea of the text, because you can often make deductions and even learn a few words from context. On the other hand, when you listen to native speakers, it’s an entirely different story. You simply don’t have the time to analyze everything and you may not fully process many of the words. That’s why there is such a huge disparity between understanding written and spoken content.
Eventually, you’ll reach a higher level and understand most of what you read, but you may still have a hard time understanding native speakers. This can be a frustrating step in language learning. Native speakers are so comfortable in their own language that they are not always careful and often mumble their way through the sentence and even skip some words or syllables altogether. We all do this, it’s just a natural aspect of languages. When you already know most of the words, your brain simply needs to get used to hearing them quickly, and learn the abbreviations and contractions that native speakers use in everyday speech.
We always recommend to listen to the language as much as possible at any level. This will help you to gradually get better with foreign sounds. Simply choose your material according to your current skill level. Material designed for very young children is a great place to start. You can then move on to family movies like Disney or DreamWorks animation productions. You can also listen to dubbed versions of movies you’re familiar with. Once you understand most of the material in these types of content, try to slowly move up to native movies. As you move up the chain of difficulty, you will be less likely to feel overwhelmed and it’s much easier to monitor your progress. This slow progression in difficulty is important and it’s much more encouraging than trying to jump right in the advanced material.
This is for advanced learners. As you become comfortable with the language you’re learning, you will eventually be confronted with material or people that you simply can’t understand at all! This often happens because the accent or dialect used is entirely different to what you’re used to hearing. This can even happen in your native language. If an American English speaker visits a small village in Scotland, they may have a hard time understanding the locals. The environment in which the language is spoken can also have an impact. For example, if you watch a television show about doctors, and then decide to watch a show about a drug cartel, the way they speak may be entirely different. Luckily, it’s usually quite easy to get used to the way of speaking once you reach a certain level. Simply keep listening and your ear will eventually get used to the new sounds. All that being said, simply remember to always immerse yourself in the language you want to learn and you will naturally make progress.
If you’re interested in learning a new language, we have combined everything we know from years of language acquisition and research to create an awesome program. Give it a try for free at OUINO.com.
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