Recently I have read various articles on this topic in particular. So I thought it might be a good idea to include my own personal opinion about it based on my own personal experience as a teacher and a language enthusiast.

Many language learners focus the majority of their time on the study of grammar structures and new vocabulary. Later they wish to apply this new knowledge and use it is real life contexts, such as conversations with native speakers. But why do people have difficulties understanding?

When we listen to native speakers, we need to take into account many factors such as the individual differences in accent, pronunciation and intonation. It is normal for a native speaker to have a relaxed attitude towards this and they may in many cases drop the letter T or G… A good starting point is to look at silent letters and work from there. The important thing at first is to be patient and start little by little, but to also listen frequently to all types of recordings.



It sounds like an obvious point, but to understand a native speaker, you must have a few specific skills in place.

1. A good knowledge of language use (grammar and vocabulary)

2. An understanding of differences in pronunciation and relaxed intonation, commonly used by natives.

The main thing we hear about is how the need for  good knowledge of language is essential, and yes, I would have to agree with this point. Obviously if you don’t know a grammar structure or specific word, it can be very hard or even impossible to understand. BUT WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IS TO KNOW HOW TO APPLY WHAT YOU KNOW! If you don’t dedicate time to speaking with natives it will always seem difficult.

What can be difficult is to find the opportunity to speak to natives. Due to location or the people you know, it can be tricky to find people to speak to. Students of English need to take advantage of social media and language exchange groups such as CONVERSATION EXCHANGE to meet natives. A great way is to offer to exchange your language for English or even hire private teachers. The next thing is the level of language. The first times I spoke to Spanish natives I found it hard to even pick up simple phrases, even the words I thought I knew. They spoke so quickly and the difference in accents and pronunciation was a mine-field. It is very important to do two things: the first thing is to do graded listening. You cannot expect to listen to complex dialogues at the beginning, you must do it step by step. The second thing is the frequency. You must listen a lot, to all types of language. NEVER BE AFRAID TO REPEAT LISTENINGS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. It is all part of the learning experience.

SEE OUR POST ON Improving your listening  

Suggested activities

1. Listen to songs you like. Review the lyrics (words). With the rhythm of music, the words are easier to understand.

2. Watch TV with subtitles (English with English subtitles). You should watch series and movies that you like and have preferably seen before.

3. Organize a language exchange.

– a tandem (exchange your native language for English)

– a learning partner (another student of English – studying at the same time)

So, in a nutshell, the way to understand a native is to speak to one, speak frequently with natives and practice language for real. You need to start off with simple conversations and be patient. If you dedicate enough time to it, you will improve listening skills.



B1 LISTENING – Preliminary (B1) Cambridge


C1 LISTENING FOR CAE (C1) – exam technique 



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  • […] You need to remember that in the use of language, and especially for speaking and listening skills, many English speakers and natives in particular do not respect grammar structures. You should think of grammar as a guide, but not an exact science. To see more on how to understand native speakers, click HERE […]

  • […] English and achieving fluency. They are also integral in the understanding of native speakers (HERE). Though idioms and expressions are usually believed to be quite informal, there are some that can […]

  • […] When we refer to the language learning field, a large amount of this sector is private. Learners invest a great deal of money in their education and we need to provide a quality service. As head of studies of a language school in Spain, as well as working intensively online (HERE), I have identified a key issue between teachers and students that can impede progress. Communication! The language barrier between the ‘native teacher’ and students (or their parents) is a real problem that many schools face and can lead to issues such as mistrust or the slow progression of students. English teachers are in great demand all over the world, but whose responsibility should it be to ensure that teachers can get messages across to non English speakers? (The teacher’s or the head of studies’ responsibility maybe?). I know that this sounds like an extreme message, but in my opinion and experience, to be an effective teacher in this field it requires an effort on both sides, teachers need to know at least the basics of their student’s native tongue. This is greatly appreciated by everyone and also makes everyone’s life easier. It shows mutual respect and also that the teacher has experience and know firsthand what it is like to be a language learner. By doing this, teachers generally see greater motivation and effort from their student. It will also save time in terms of organisation as teachers will be able to explain this more clearly. Of course novice teachers need to avoid the case of using too much of the student’s first language in class as it will prevent the development of the necessary listening skills needed for communication (HERE). […]

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