If you didn’t already know, I’m working on a new higher-level English project. Since announcing it, I’ve received some really interesting questions.
Here’s one from someone who’s currently studying in the UK. He didn’t want me to share his name, so let’s call him Steven.
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“Hi Sam – your project sounds interesting! I have many questions. I am a student at university in England. I have some friends who are English speakers. It’s good for me because I’ve never had English friends before. But I can’t really understand them all the time. What can I do?”
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Firstly, Steven gets bonus points for making English speaking friends… It’s not always an easy thing to do.
That’s what I call being proactive.
But, Steven has found out that having English speaking friends isn’t enough… In fact, it sometimes makes it harder.
Native English speakers can be difficult to understand because they don’t really talk like textbooks… they miss words out, they speak quickly, they don’t pronounce everything, they make mistakes, they have strange accents, and they squash sounds together, like:
“Ahyuu gowin ta tha party layta?”
This is quite an easy question because even if you didn’t understand it, you can just answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
But things get trickier with open ended questions…
“What didja thinka tha score in tha man yuu game?”
In this example, they’re probably talking about the score in a football match. We know this because of the connotations of the words “score” “match” and “man yuu” (=Manchester United).
Unless you’re listening carefully, you might not understand what they are talking about.
So, what can you do?
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to take you from where you are now, to where you want to be. It takes hard work and time.
If you’re prepared to put in the time and the effort, then here’s what you do:
First you listen to native conversations that can help you in the areas you want to improve.
Then you practise the conversation that you’re listening to.
Then, you analyse the language and the sounds of what you’ve just listened to.
Finally, you use that language yourself until it sticks.
To me, analysing English speech like that is fun, interesting and effective. And I’m planning to analyse dialogue – including questions and answers – in my new project ‘the Difference’. It’s just one of the sections that I’m planning to include in this new project…
I want to know if this is something that you’re interested in, too.
If you are interested in this type of conversation analysis (where we’ll look at what people say, why they say it and how to use it), sign up for updates below:
Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also a lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.