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Reductions: The Secret to Understanding Native Speakers

Understanding Native English Speakers: Reductions and Relaxed Speech

Could you slow down?”

Do you have difficulty understanding native speakers?

Have you ever wanted to ask someone to slow down when they are speaking fast?

Have you spent years studying grammar and vocabulary but still struggle to understand native speakers?

Do you need subtitles to understand TV and movies in English?

Would you like to be able to understand TV and movies without subtitles?

Here is the secret to understanding native speakers: learn reductions.

The key to understanding native speakers is learning the reduced forms used in spoken English.

What are reductions?

Reductions = lost sounds.

Reductions are a natural part of spoken language. There are different types of reductions. One very common type of reductions is contractions. For example, Can’t is a contraction of cannot. Letters are dropped, the words are combined, and sounds are dropped.

Practical Example

Elsa: Whaddaya gonna do this weekend?

Ollie: I’m just gonna take it easy.

Here is the conversation again, in its unreduced form.

Elsa: What are you going to do this weekend?

Ollie: I am just going to take it easy.

As you can see, when Elsa speaks, she reduces 5 words to 2 words.

  • “What are you” becomes “Whaddaya.”
  • “going to” is reduced to “gonna”
  • “I am” is reduced to the contracted form “I’m”

Listen to the audio to hear the difference:

Reductions, or relaxed speech, are normal. All native speakers do this naturally. The good news is: You can learn them! They follow patterns. By learning the patterns and getting lots of listening practice, you can train your ear and start understanding native speakers, TV shows, and movies. You can learn about and listen to more reductions on my post Small Talk: How was your weekend?

With practice and training, you can start making sense of native English speakers when they speak naturally.


The best and easiest listening comprehension book I have seen is Whaddaya Say? Guided Practice in Relaxed Spoken English by Nina Weinstein. It is a small book with 20 chapters. It helps students improve their listening comprehension by explaining 20 high-frequency relaxed speech patterns. It is great for self-study, especially if you also get the cassette (old school technology!). Does anyone even have a cassette player anymore? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to find a reasonably priced cassette, though I haven’t looked closely at the used books to see if any happen to include one. The book provides an answer key in the back for all of the listening exercises. It’s an especially good resource for teachers who want to teach relaxed speech. While some copies are outrageously priced, used versions can be found for just $4.29 and many for about $8.00. Some copies even ship from Japan.

I recently found an interview with Nina Weinstein on called “Wanna, Gonna, Hafta: Getting Relaxed With Reduced Forms of Speech. It’s about 5 minutes long in MP3 format and includes a read-a-long transcript. The MP3 speed can also be adjusted to be faster or slower.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post.

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