I’m Listening as fast as I can!

The rate of speech is a double edged sword for those who speak English as a second language.  It affects both their ability to understand native English speakers and to be understood by them.

The rate of speech, how fast or slow a person talks, conveys attitude and emotion.  Our rate will increase if we are excited, frightened or nervous.  It will slow down if we are thinking carefully about something or making a choice.  We may vary our rate to emphasis the importance of something we are saying. Non-native speakers may have difficulty keeping up with a normal conversational rate of speech.

Native speakers of a language have learned to rapidly recognize the sounds of that language.  We automatically perceive and process the sounds without much effort. But if we are listening to a new language we need more time to recognize the sounds and words.  We are still processing one word when the speaker has moved on to the next.  So non-native speakers often feel native speakers talk to rapidly.

To “keep up” with the conversation non-native speaker’s brains need to learn to rapidly recognize the sounds of English.  This requires effort and training.  A piano player may be content with their ability to play a few simple songs or they may aspire to master pieces by Mozart. It is the same with learning a new language.  A non-native speaker who has enough language to function in certain situations such as shopping or going to a restaurant may stop making an effort to improve their English.  But those who continue to make an effort will master the English language and will have increased success and confidence in all situations.


  • If you don’t understand the person talking to you ask them to slow down
  • Spend time with English speakers outside of your work setting
  • Listen to the news or TV shows in English
  • Look up words at http://www.merriam-webster.com/ where you can also hear the word pronounced


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