How to NOT Speak Like a Grammar Robot

Screenshot 2015-12-01 16.55.24Do you struggle to understand natives without subtitles? Is bad pronunciation blocking your fluency?

We get e-mails every day from learners who know how to read and write extremely well, but for some strange reason, get their asses kicked every time they open their mouth or try to listen to natural native speech.

They spend an absurd amount of time and money developing their reading and writing, but their grammar-conditioned brains are completely incapable of processing and reproducing fast, native-like connected speech.

So what the heck is happening here? Are we putting the cart before the horse (to have things in the wrong order)?

In human history, spoken language emerged long before the written language. Even in our native tongue we learn to listen and imitate before reading and writing. Think about it for a second.

By focusing so much on rigid grammar, reading and writing, we have completely abandoned the foundation to true fluency in any language, which is SOUND, rhythm and flow!

Native speakers don’t speak like grammar robots (like traditional schools teach)- we connect our words, we shrink them, we link them, and we do it in a predictable rhythmic pattern that flows. And this can all be deciphered, learned, and practiced. Today we’re going to show you 3 reasons why and 3 tips how!

1. We Cut Our Words

In native English speech, we cut our words, we shrink them, and we link them. For many words, we do not clearly pronounce the full word you were taught in English class.

This surprises a lot of English learnings because they expect us to speak. very. slowly. and. pronounce. every. syllable. This is not how we really speak at all.

2. We Connect the Words and Sounds and Form Chunks

As Native speakers tend to link the words together when they speak, which can be very confusing to the untrained ear, because you think that you’re hearing one word, when it is in fact two or even three. When several words merge together with one unit of meaning, these are chunks of language.

For example, the sentence, “what are you going to do” may look like a bunch of separate words, and a non-native will probably pronounce them that way, but in native-like speech it comes out in a single unit of words (a chunk). It might sound like “wha-da-ya-gonna-do.”

It’s very common for us to completely alter the sounds and yes, even break grammar rules (and it’s not slang).  That doesn’t mean you should write this way, but it’s how we really speak.

Here are a few more examples taken straight from our Fluent with Friends course, which among other things, analyzes, breaks down, and teaches these native speaking patterns I’m referring to.

  • a lot of = a-law-duh
  • I don’t want you to = I don-wan-chuh-duh
  • When did you call her? = when-jew call-er?

3. English is a Stress-Timed Language 

This means that English has a very unique rhythm and flow. We. don’t. equally. put. stress. on. each. and. every. syllable. as. most. English. learners. would. expect. That ends up sounding robotic.

The truth is that there’s a hidden logic behind the way we speak, a pattern that dictates how we stress our words, and you can learn in right now by learning content and function words.

But wait, this can seem a bit technical in writing, so I’m going to have RealLife Teacher, Chad Fishwick, teach it in this video, which is part of a free 3 part mini-course we offer on How to Learn English with TV Series. If you’d like to watch the rest of the mini-course (which is pretty awesome), just leave a comment and we’ll get you hooked up.

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Does that help? If you’re like most people, this is probably pretty new to you, and this article is too short of an introduction to a entirely new dimension of the language.

Before we go, I wanted going to live a few key tips.

3 Tips to Put this Into Practice

  1. Imitate Rap Music: As I explain in this more in-depth article about the pronunciation, rap music is like going to the gym for your oral muscle memory. Learn the song, record and compare yourself to the original. Pop songs, such as Happyby Pharrel Williams, can be effective too, but you’ve gotta sing!
  2. Listen to Native Speaking Media EVERY DAY: Listen to podcasts (check out RealLife Radio), watch TV series, news, movies, and make a daily habit of consuming native-speaking media (listening to music doesn’t count). This is a dynamite habit for your listening comprehension!
  3. Practice Shadowing: This may be the single most powerful technique there is to improve your pronunciation. Shadowing is to follow a dialogue and closely imitate as quickly as possible, not just the words, but the rhythm, flow, intonation, and stress patterns (as we discussed here today.)

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  • Horacio says:

    I follow lots of series. Going to try your advices, especially with the
    Americans -it’s really hard to understand you without subtitles-.
    Great article!

  • Esther Crespo says:

    I’d like to watch the rest of the mini-course 🙂