A question asked by many US immigrants is: Why don’t I understand Americans when they speak? Did you win a US Green Card, just moved to the USA and realize you have trouble understanding Americans when they speak? Don’t get frustrated, it is completely normal to not get every word and we have some reasons why that is the case.
One of the reasons why you may have difficulties understanding American English is because Americans do not speak as if they are reading English. As with all languages, native speakers have a major advantage and tend to speak differently than how you are taught in school.
This different way of speaking is not considered as American slang or even improper. It is totally normal for native speakers to leave out certain vowel or consonant sounds while they speak. When sounds in words are left out of the word completely or pronounced differently, this is referred to as linguistic reduction. Below, we look at linguistic reduction in English pronunciation, contractions and word stress.
When speaking English, it may be hard to know which words can be reduced, i.e. shortened or left out. Especially if the language is new to you. Yet, native speakers of English do this automatically. Just think about your own language, we are pretty sure you find some examples of reduction there as well. There is a certain pattern for American English though, that if you recognize will help you know which words you can reduce and which you can stress.
When speaking, function words are usually unstressed, spoken with a lower pitch, reduced or not spoken at all. Function words influence pronunciation in American English, that is why you might not get every word. Let’s now take a look at some examples of pronunciation and contractions in American English to make the complex theory more concrete.
When learning a foreign language, you try to carefully pronounce your words. The challenge in learning English is to leave out sounds while speaking. We have prepared a few examples of missing sounds so that you can understand Americans better:
Practice your English skills with a simple trick and listen to American radio, podcasts, watch American television or movies. You will notice all the words that Americans do not fully pronounce. As a Green Card holder you can listen to the pronunciation in your neighborhood or at work.
Another important aspect of American English is contractions. Contractions are a type of linguistic reduction where two or more words are said as one. When you learn English, you usually learn about how words contract grammatically.
In speaking, however, Americans combine words into almost new ones. See below for interesting examples, which make you an absolute English expert:
Modal Verbs + have:
Word + of:
Word + you:
Some other popular contractions you will hear everyday include: gonna (going to), gimme (give me), lemme (let me), donno (don’t know).
The more you practice listening to an American speak, the quicker you will learn the language! Most of the time you will not even notice that you already use American English in your daily life. And the best way to learn the language is to get a Green Card and fulfill your dream of living and working in the USA. Apply for the current Green Card Lottery so you won’t say, “I shoulda done that!”.