Barriers to Comprehension

This module is the foundation of understanding spoken English. Do this module before tackling any of the "Understanding" modules.

It should take about 1 hour to complete.

Listening to English with French ears

Why don't I understand you?

There are many possible reasons why you may not understand a native speaker.

What we are going to focus on in this module is the way that fluent English speakers speak, which is different from the way English is written. English speakers do not say every word when they speak - they contract, use liaisons and weak vowel sounds.

To give you a few examples:

  • I wasn't there → I wzn there (weak vowel sounds)
  • I used to have a cat → I used t've a cat (contraction)
  • I have a meeting → I have a meeding (letter T becomes a D sound)

Unfortunately this is not widely taught in France and many French learners genuinely expect their American, British, South African and Irish colleagues to articulate and pronounce every word the same as the way they write. When English speakers don't, they don't understand why they don't understand.

Fortunately once you've mastered the speech patterns that English speakers use - the way they contract their words - you will begin to hear these patterns on your phone calls and in your TV series. Plus there are plenty of comprehension modules on this platform to practice.

She works in an old office.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

Her English is pretty good.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

He said that it was for me.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

Do you know her?

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

Would you like a drink?

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

I told Tim that I hate David.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

Keep practicing.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

I have just seen him.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

What did you do last night?

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

He's better than you.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

How long have you been working in France?

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

He seems to have forgotten his badge.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

I'm going to do it later.

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

What do you want to do?

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

I have got to go to the cash machine

Listen to a native speaker saying the sentence and write how the sentence phonetically sounds to your ears.

Barriers 2

Rhythm of English

So why do you think fluent English speakers speak this way? (No, it's not to torture foreigners).

You may have noticed that English has a musical tone and this comes from stressing certain words and destressing other words. The words that we choose to stress are the key words, the most important words in the sentence. The words that we "destress" or contract are the less important words, the grammar words, and if we removed them the speaker could still be understood.

For example:

  • They have been working hard these last few months on an exception management system.

Which words do you think an English speaker will stress when he/she speaks?

  • They have been working hard these last few months on an exception management system.

All the words that are not stressed will probably be contracted. So you will hear:

  • The've bn working hard these lass few month sonen exception managemen system.

 

Click on the stressed words in the sentence below.

Click on the stressed words in the sentence below.

Click on the stressed words in the sentence below.

What are the missing words?

Now you may be wondering, "But if English speakers contract the little grammar words, how can I possibly understand the full meaning of the sentence? I need all the words."

Do you really though?

I working  new project moment.

What are the missing words?

Let's try another one.

go cinema very often?

What's next?

Now that you are aware of the speech patterns / contractions that fluent English speakers use, the next step is to practice. Any of the comprehension modules will help you do this.

  • What??? - hundreds of short, one-sentence recordings that you have to transcribe. You can also opt to receive these in your inbox every week by signing up here.
  • Understanding Problems
  • Understanding Questions
  • Understanding Dialogues