What To Do When You Just Can’t Understand Native Speakers


I hope you guys are ready, because I’m about to keep it real. You know the most frustrating thing in the world? When you’ve shed blood, sweat and tears into studying a language only to find that when you get in front of a native speaker, you have no idea what the hell is going on! This has happened to me on a number of occasions. My language learning app or program has led me into delulu land by making me think I was a certain level and achieved certain status through showing a big fat CONGRATULATIONS and a gold medal to indicate that my language level has improved so greatly. I was so confident. Then when someone tried speaking to me at a natural pace, the X-Files song would play and I would stare as if they were speaking an alien language and hieroglyphs where coming out of their mouth.

No matter where we are in our language study, this has happened to all of us at some point. Perhaps even multiple times. Perhaps even enough times for you to consider quitting whatever language you’re studying. Well, don’t quit because having trouble understanding native speakers is as common as sliced bread in the language learning community. Don’t quit- learn. Let me say that again. Don’t quit- learn. Are you not understanding because they’re going too fast, consume more natural paced media, are you not understanding because you don’t understand the words, learn more commonly used vocabulary.

This gap between our language study and actual native speakers highlights a huge issue. Our language study is not adequately teaching us how the language is actually spoken. If you are using a textbook like Berlin or even an online program like Rocket Language, you will find that there is a HUGE disconnect from your studies and the way the language is spoken. Even though Rocket Language is conversation based, 80 percent of the lessons is in English. This really isn’t that helpful to you as a language learner. And you should always be looking to minimize the amount of English you hear during your language learning. What that being said, here are the tips I have for improving your listening comprehension skills.

Immerse Yourself in the Language Everyday

So the REAL reasons you don’t understand native speakers is because they are talking too fast, using words you have never heard, or pronouncing them in such a weird way that you didn’t recognize the word when they said it. All of this can be resolved by taking at least one hour a day and completely immersing yourself in the language. Watch a movie without subtitles, watch a reality or variety show without subtitles, or watch Youtube videos that seem interesting to you. I recommend that you visit Fluent-U and use their library of videos to help you immerse yourself. Fluent-U is a website that gives you videos of music videos, commercials, youtube videos and shows, and teaches you all the vocabulary and grammar in those videos. It is EXCELLENT for immersion and I recommend that you check it out. Youtube is a REALLY great way to get used to how people speak because the speak is based off more natural and modern language.

The more you immerse yourself everyday, the more accustomed you will be become to that super fast natural speech.

Play a Video Game in Another Language


Now here’s something interesting. What if you bought and played a video game in another language. The Walking Dead (which has a CRAP ton of dialogue), Final Fantasy, or basically any game with lots of dialogue would be ideal. Video games, if the language is not based on historic language, is an excellent resource to take advantage of! The language has to be natural because it is somewhat like a movie, except you can play it. Imagine how sick your Japanese would be for example, if you dedicated yourself to playing games in the language!


Talk to Someone

I know! I know! Nobody wants to do this. Most people are too scared to talk to someone in a foreign language because they are afraid they won’t understand or will mess up. Well, newflash it’s a language! Languages are meant to be spoken! So unfortunately for us who are introverted to the deepest part of our dna, we must practice what we learn by speaking to someone. To help you out, try finding someone who speaks a little English too and can ease the discomfort by explaining things or helping you complete a thought if you tell them what you want to say. If you don’t want to talk face to face, download Wechat and just send audio clips to each other back and forth to have a conversation. It’s super easy and WAY less awkward.


Final Thoughts

I want to leave you with this. In Asia, students are taught English IN ENGLISH. Most of their teachers (of not all of them) don’t speak an Asian language, so everything they learn in English is explained using English and they understand perfectly fine. This is an INCREDIBLE way to learn a language. However, I have found that English speakers always hear more English than the target language while they learn. Everything is explained in English no matter what your level is and that really handicaps your language learning. Students learning English can understand the English explanations of complicated words and their level is only low intermediate! So if they can do it, so can you. Find an instructor/tutor that will only teach in the target language and will explain concepts in the target language too. They shouldn’t speak English unless they absolutely HAVE TO.  Or if you prefer to work alone, go use the Languagepod (Example, Japanesepod, Chinesepod, Koreanpod) websites and skip to the advanced/intermediate lessons where most of the lessons are in the target language. I don’t recommend that beginners do this, because there are some fundamentals you must have before even trying to attempt to understand advanced lessons. But for the rest of us intermediate and advanced learners, eat your hearts out!

Hope this helps!! Happy learning!


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