Want to understand fast native English speakers during conversations in English?
Do you feel a little stressed out when trying to follow what fast-talking Americans are saying? 😕
If so, you’re not alone.
Most non-native speakers tend to stress out before interacting with native English speakers because they’re afraid they’re not going to catch every single word.
Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered!
In this article and video, I share my tips on how to handle interactions with fast talking Americans so that you can feel more confident in conversations in English.
Before we get started, I want to let you know that I do feel for you. 💜
After all, it can be really awkward to admit that you don’t necessarily understand every single word you hear.
Because listening skills often develop more quickly than speaking skills, you may feel like the fact that you missed a word reflects on your ability to speak English. I know that’s not the case.
The reality is that sometimes we just miss words. This happens to native speakers as well!
In this video, I want to put you at ease.
I want you to understand that missing certain words or feeling a little lost when a native speaker is speeding up and speaking incredibly quickly is completely normal, even for native speakers.
Let’s talk about the skills you need in order to handle these situations comfortably.
Try to Understand the Emotion Being Expressed by Fast Speech
First, let’s look at the reasons why native speakers speed up and speak so fast.
By understanding why we speak so quickly in the first place, you’ll feel more prepared when you’re interacting in a social situation.
First things first, in any language, most of us speed up when we’re feeling excited, enthusiastic, passionate, or emotional about a certain topic.
If you hear a native speaker starting to speak really, really quickly, they’re probably sharing something that you need to pay attention to.
When someone is speaking passionately and emotionally about a topic, it can be a little stressful to tell them to slow down.
Are you really going to interrupt someone and say, “Excuse me, could you slow down and speak a little more slowly?”
Probably not. That will probably interrupt the flow of conversation and make you feel even more uncomfortable.
If you’re in a situation where the other person is speaking very emotionally about a topic, pay attention to the underlying reason “why.”
What’s the underlying emotion you can distinguish from their tone?
Their intonation will convey a lot of meaning even if you can’t understand every single word.
Listen for Words That Are Emphasized with Word and Sentence Stress
To understand native English speakers, you need to realize that we don’t necessarily think we’re speaking quickly. Instead, we’re speaking efficiently.
In English, we use word and sentence stress in order to draw your attention to the most important words in the sentence.
If we’re speeding through a certain word, it’s probably not important enough for you to hear!
I want you to listen for the words, or even better, the syllables in these words that are the longest, the loudest and the highest in pitch.
In order to stress words, we make one syllable of a word longer, louder and higher in pitch.
When you’re listening to an American who is speaking really quickly, pay attention to the words that are longest, loudest, and highest in pitch.
These are the words that carry the meaning of the sentence.
By tuning your ear to focus specifically on these particular words, you’re going to get the meaning of the sentence without needing to hear every single detail.
In my experience, most non-native speakers put too much pressure on themselves by trying to catch every single word and detail of the sentence.
Native speakers don’t do this. Native speakers listen efficiently.
We listen for the words that receive the most stress in the sentence.
To understand someone who’s speaking quickly, pay attention to these emphasized words. This will enable you to follow along with the key points of the sentence.
Listen for Words and Ideas That Are Repeated
So far, we’ve discussed paying attention to tone of voice to identify the meaning behind the words, as well as listening for word and sentence stress in order to hear the key words in the sentence.
Next, I encourage you to focus your attention on words and ideas that seem to repeat themselves.
If you’re listening to someone speaking passionately on a topic, they’re probably going to come back to their main ideas again and again.
In the most typical American communication style, we tell somebody what we’re going to say to them, we say it and then we repeat ourselves again once we finish.
If you miss the point at the beginning of the sentence, try to tune your ear to the key message.
What’s the underlying idea or theme that you hear throughout the person’s speech?
It’s perfectly okay if you miss a few details as long as you understand the underlying meaning.
Ask for Clarification When You Miss Something Important
If you feel like you have missed a key point in the person’s speech, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
In fact, clarifying what you heard and confirming your understanding are two of the most essential conversation skills in English, in my opinion.
If you get the sense that you’ve missed something important, you can ask the person to repeat themselves.
You can say something like:
- Would you mind repeating that for me again?
- Would you mind going over that one more time?
Even better, you can get more specific:
- Could you clarify what you mean by your last point?
- I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat your last point?
- I don’t think I got your meaning. Could you go over that again?
- Just a second, I need a little more clarification on your last point. Could you repeat that?
As you can see, all of these questions show that you’re listening carefully to the other person, but they enable the other person to repeat themselves.
You want to jump in and ask for clarification right after the point that you missed. If you understood the rest of the sentence, there’s no point in asking them to repeat everything they’ve already said.
In fact, when you ask them to clarify a specific point, you may actually help the other person be more clear.
Sometimes it’s not the fact that you didn’t understand, it’s that the other person needs to repeat themselves to be extra clear!
Confirm Your Understanding By Repeating Their Points in Your Own Words
In addition to asking clarifying questions, you can show what you understood by repeating back some of their points in your own words.
Some expressions we use to confirm our understanding are the following:
- Let me see if I understood you correctly.
- Can I just check what I got from that?
- What I heard you say was…
- I think you’re saying…
- In other words… (and then restate their point in your own words).
When you repeat back the points you did understand, the other person can clarify anything else that you may have missed.
These are subtle ways to keep the conversation going without slowing down the flow of the person’s thoughts.
Feel More Confident When Interacting with Someone Who Speaks Quickly
Please don’t feel stressed out when you interact with someone who speaks really quickly!
Remember that they’re showing enthusiasm, excitement, emotion, or passion for the topic through the way that they speak.
Instead, focus your attention on the stressed words.
Pay attention to the meaning that you get through their intonation.
Listen for ideas that come up again and again.
Try to catch the key points by the way they emphasize them.
And if you do have any doubts, be sure to ask for clarification and confirm what you heard.
As your ear adjusts to the way that we speak, you’re not going to be intimidated by the speed of speech!
You’re going to be pay attention to the key words by listening to what’s most important in the sentence.
I hope you feel more confident interacting with native speakers now that you’re prepared with these tips!
If you have any other suggestions for what you can do if you’re interacting with a fast-speaking native speaker, please leave a comment below the video.