How to Keep Up with Fast English Speakers

Many of my students study English for work. Very often, they tell me they feel comfortable talking about work with their foreign counterparts. After all, the topics, technical words, and ideas are all familiar to them. But when it comes to other topics, they sometimes feel lost, especially with fast talking native speakers. 

In this post, we’ll look at some tips and ideas to help you keep up. 

Confused in a meeting with fast talkers

The Basics

This may be obvious, but it has to be stated. If you have good grammar, and if you know a lot of English words, listening to native speakers will be easier. 

So, keep practicing, and you WILL get better with time. 

It’s hard to talk about unfamiliar topics. For example, my coworker John, loves music. I don’t know a lot about music, but he talks about it all the time. What should I do? 

When talking to regular coworkers, try to learn a little about their interests. Ask questions, watch videos, read posts, etc. 

Remember, you don’t have to become an expert. Knowing something is better than knowing nothing.

If you’re meeting a group of new people, it’s impossible to guess what they might be interested in, so keep it simple. Know a bit about what’s happening in their area or general things they might be interested in like big sports events, seasonal events and holidays, or the news that day. 

Native speakers are going to talk about things in their culture that they are familiar with like movies and music etc. It’s ok if you don’t know about them. Finding out is part of the fun. So, be curious, ask questions, and don’t worry about the things you don’t know. 

Understand Native Pronunciation

Having good pronunciation is a big help when you speak. UNDERSTANDING native pronunciation is a HUGE help for listening and keeping up with conversations. 

We can’t share everything about English pronunciation in one post, but here are some good things to focus on. 

Many native speakers sound fast because their words link together. Linking happens when the end of a word links with the start of the next word. 

1. Similar Sounds 
• went to = when to
• jumped down = jump down

2. Vowel Sounds
• go away = gowa way
I am = I yam

3. Consonant + Vowel Sounds
• came over = kay mover
• made up = may dup
(Notice the “e” at the end of “came” is silent.) 

Many words like “of” “to” “and” “or” can be reduced to VERY small sounds. 

• black and white = blacken white 
• stay or go = stayer go

There are many many cases where native speakers drop sounds and words.

1. Dropped “g”
• I’m goin’ out. =  going
• She’s workin’ hard. = working 

2. Dropped “t” 
• Don! even try. = don’t
• I can! make it. = can’t

3. Dropped words 
• Are you busy right now? 
• You busy right now? 

• Do you want me to look it up? 
• You want me to look it up? 
• Want me to look it up? 

There are many many more patterns and examples to review so have fun with it and practice regularly. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Be Proactive
Nothing will change if you don’t try. 

Listen to videos or podcasts and shadow along. Listen at slower and faster speeds for practice and use transcripts (not subtitles).  

Listen to recordings and summarize the key points as quickly as you can. It’s ok to write your summary. If your goal is speaking with real people, speak your summary  out loud.

Role Play
Practice role playing in different ways. You can do this with a teacher in a class or with videos. For example, try to speak and react to people in movies and videos as if you were a character in the story. 

One of my students spoke very slowly and always reacted slowly to questions. But he loved playing online games like Call of Duty and Fortnite. So, he started playing on the American servers. In the games, he had to react to the other players very quickly. His English improved VERY quickly in casual and formal situations. Why? 

• He did it every day.  
• He had emotional output: Look out! Behind you! Go! GO! GOOO!!! 
• He had fun! 

Speaking naturally, and understanding native speakers takes time. So practice regularly, and try to have fun doing it. Remember what works for you, might not work for other people, so try a lot of different things. 

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