Updated: Jun 11
One of the biggest blockages to our ability to deal with any situation in a foreign language, can be our own brain's tendency to panic when we hear, or see, something which at first seems incomprehensible. Many people experience real problems getting over this initial reaction and become completely 'blocked'.
We understand more than we think
In our English training sessions we often give our pupils tasks to do outside the classes, in the form of videos, audios, or articles. These are then a talking point in the next session. Many of them return the following session, and tell me how difficult it was, and how they didn't understand anything. My general response is "ok, tell me what you DID understand", and most of them are then able to give me a general description of the topics covered. Of course, at this moment I say something like "so you did understand something!"
Keep an open mind
This panic at hearing, or reading, English can cause a real blockage to our understanding and can stop us being able to respond. An important skill in any situation where you have contact with another language, is to take a step back and accept that you won't understand much of what is being said. However, if you just keep an open mind, and pay attention, you may understand enough to be able to get the general message. This is what language teachers often refer to as the 'gist' or general understanding.
Focus on what you DO understand
We have a tendency to focus on what we DON'T understand and not on what we DO understand. Ok, I know that watching a video in the original English language can be very tricky for learners, and perhaps you only understand 5%, but that is 'something' and if you keep going and practicing then next week you will understand 6% etc etc. It's very often a case of tuning your hearing and brain to the voices and accents, so don't always give up immediately.
Another important factor to remember, especially when speaking with native English speakers, is that English is not your native language! So it's pretty normal that you won't undertand everything. What you need to do is 'take control' of the situation and ask appropriate questions. A blank look or saying 'Eh?' is not a good response!
Below are a few of the essential phrases that any learner needs to have ready to use at any time:
+ I'm sorry I didn't catch that. Could you repeat it a bit slower please?
+ What do you mean by .........?
+ I'm sorry, but could you explain in other words please?
Most people will be sympathetic with you and will help you to understand, but you need to take the initiative and ask the right questions. Otherwise they may just think you are being rude or that you really don't understand anything, which perhaps is not true.
So, next time you are faced with some seemingly incomprehensible English, follow these steps:
1. Breath deeply!
2. Keep an open mind and try to tune in to what is being said.
3. Remember it's not necessary to undertand everything, just enough to get the 'gist' or general understanding.
4. If someone is speaking to you, ask for clarification on parts you don't understand.
5. Keep breathing ;)
6. Don't be deterred if you don't understand. Keep on trying and your skills will improve.
If you follow these tips it should give you a much better chance of understanding what is being said!
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