Drowning in the Fluent English Ocean


Unless you are lucky enough to have grown up in a bilingual family or country, you will remember the feeling of talking to a native English speaker for the first time. It was a shocking experience for me. The good thing was that I wasn’t actually talking to anybody, but just listening to a recording. The flow of unbelievably fast speech made me feel like I was swimming in a deep, icy-cold ocean all by myself with no dry land to see for miles around. I was catching familiar words but they were not enough to give me a clear idea of what people were talking about on the CD. I was getting tired and frustrated.


Ironically, I had been learning English for five years before I heard some real-life English. In the former Soviet Union where I went to school, live language recordings were very rare, and the internet was non-existent at that time. I had had very limited exposure to real English, so it was painful to tell myself, “OK, you just don’t understand!!” I kept asking myself, “Why? How is it possible?” I thought I knew enough words to be ready for fluent speech like that, but as I learned later, it was not only about the words.


How is fluent speech different from a list of words in the dictionary?


The English language is not just a large collection of words in some dictionary. When these words come together in speech, they may not sound like they do in isolation. Some sounds will be pronounced shorter, some will be quieter, some will disappear  and some will change their form and sound! In most cases the conjunction and for instance will be pronounced as an or even n! So, when you hear somebody speak in longer sentences and phrases you might find yourself in the same deep ocean that I did about eighteen years ago.


All of this may sound pretty depressing. You study a language, spend your time and money on learning how to speak it, and yet you still can’t understand it! Fortunately, these fluent speech patterns are not chaotic and once you learn and practice them you will be able to recognise them in normal speech and understand more of it than just single words and phrases.


This is why I’m writing this article: to give you hope that it is possible to understand your favorite shows and movies. You just need to learn and practice these three simple patterns.


So here are these 3 secrets you need to know to understand fluent English.


Secret #1: All words are connected


When you read or write in English you definitely have spaces between the words that help you understand the written language more easily. Spaces indicate the beginning and the end of sentences. But this is only true in written language. This is one of the reasons why students who spend a lot of time reading can neither talk nor hear the language correctly at all! They can read encyclopedias, but will not be able to answer questions about the weather.


The main reason for that is that they continue thinking that oral language functions the same way as it is written. They hope to hear each word separately (just like they read it) and expect a speaker to place spaces (pauses) after each word. However, oral language works differently.


When speaking English people connect words with each other. In other words, whatchahearisgoingtalooklikethis (translation: what you hear is going to look like this). The first principle of real-life fluent English is that all words are connected. The consonants at the end of one word connect with the vowel of the next one. The vowels connect and make it sound like there’s another consonant there. Watch this:



  • Build a home is pronounced as builda home.
  • Later on is pronounced as lateron.
  • Two apricots is pronounced as tu:wapricots.
  • The end is pronounced as thi:jend.


Exercise 1:

Listen to me read the following examples, first as school students would pronounce them (who try to pronounce each word clearly) and then, as a native speaker would pronounce them.


  • Left it
  • Used up
  • Time’s up
  • Letter of intent
  • Paid up front
  • Filled up a form
  • Heard an unfamiliar voice


Listen to Recording 1


Secret #2: The h’s disappear


Obviously, not all h’s disappear. The only ones that do are the h’s in his, her, and him that come after a consonant and the auxiliary verb have in perfect tenses (again only if it follows a consonant). When the h’s disappear, what is left of the word is connected to the previous word. Let’s look at some examples:



  • Left him alone is pronounced as leftimalone (the h is gone: leftim).
  • Washed his hands is pronounced as washtiz hands (the h is gone: washtiz).
  • Tell her is pronounced as teller (the h is gone).


Exercise 2:

Listen to me read the following examples, first as school students would pronounce them (who try to pronounce each word clearly) and then, as a native speaker would pronounce them.


  • Helped her at school
  • Worked with her
  • Fixed his car
  • Stayed at his office
  • Left him a note


Listen to Recording 2


Secret #3: The d and t may sound like dzh and tch


If a word ends in t or d and the next one starts with the j sound as in the words your and you, the t + j will sound like tch and the d + j will sound like dzh. Consider the following examples:




Could you is pronounced as kudzha.

Didn’t you is pronounced as didntcha.


Exercise 3:

Listen to me read the following examples, first as school students would pronounce them (who try to pronounce each word clearly) and then, as a native speaker would pronounce them.


  • Could you stay?
  • Can’t you decide?
  • Would you prefer?
  • Did you eat?
  • Couldn’t you explain?


Listen to Recording 3


So what’s next?


Now that you know and understand these 3 secrets, your goal is to make sure that you change the way you speak following these patterns. In order to do that, I challenge you to work on the 3 exercises through this coming week. Here’s how you can make the most out of these exercises:


  1. Listen to and repeat each exercise after the recording (repeat only the correct versions).
  2. Read each exercise out aloud, slowly and then gradually make it faster.
  3. Watch movies, ads and other real English videos and try to listen out for more examples of connected speech.
  4. Use these patterns in your own speech.
  5. Join my LinkedEnglish course to learn more secrets about fluent English or sign up for a consultation with me so I can give you more feedback and guidance!


All the best to you in your journey towards real-life English Fluency!


Image Sources


Hero Image by Susana Fernandez (CC BY-ND 2.0)