One of the biggest frustrations I hear you express about native English speakers is that they talk too fast.

  • But how do they manage to talk so fast?
  • And what can you do to better understand them?
  • Maybe you’re wondering how you can make your English more fast and automatic like that?

Well, one explanation is “chunks”. And this is exactly what Julian Northbrook from Doing English is going to talk to me about in this video.

He’s just finishing off his PhD on the topic so he’s got a lot to say about it. I learned a lot from this interview and got a refresh on some of the linguistic theories I studied at university.

We manage to stay practical though so you can use these insights to improve your English listening skills. You’ll see that “chunks” are essentially pieces of language, like phrases and expressions that form the building blocks of speech. 

When you start listening for chunks instead of individual words, you’ll find that fast spoken English becomes a lot easier to catch. So stay tuned for Julian’s tips on how to apply this strategy to your listening.

You’ll hear us discuss:

  • Julian’s past life as an artist and his attempt to storm the Japanese art world, without speaking Japanese, which failed!
  • How this led to an interest in linguistics and English teaching and the creation of his website Doing English.
  • Adapting to a new life in Ireland and Irish accents.
  • Julian’s PhD on “chunking” which is in its final stages.
  • Problems with grammar-focused linguistic theories or words and rules approaches (Noam Chomsky in the 1950s for example).
  • Chunking theories which suggest that we store “blocks” or “chunks” of language in long-term memory and pull them out when we need them.
  • The problem of a “words and rules” approach when applied to listening and why chunking is a more efficient way to better understand English.
  • Why fluency through learning more words and grammar is a myth.
  • Why “chunks” make English sound fast, especially if you’re listening out for individual words and trying to piece them together.
  • Compilations of “chunks” from The Jeremy Kyle Show and Homes Under the Hammer.
  • Implications for listening – instead of listening out for individual words, try to listen for larger blocks or chunks of language. This amounts to a shift in perspective, rather than a huge change in the way you listen.
  • Should you slow down fast audio? Julian’s counterintuitive listening exercise recommendation based on life hacker Tim Ferris and his own Japanese learning experiences.
  • The different focus between activities where you slow audio down or speed it up.
  • Why linguistic knowledge of English doesn’t necessarily help you in conversation and other everyday situations.

Watch the video:

Links and Resources We Mentioned

We mentioned a few different tools and resources in this video. As promised, here are the links to them:

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