Although many of us in India are English medium educated and speak English well, there are times that we do not entirely comprehend what was said- especially when conversing with native speakers of English. (I have to confess that I never really comprehend English movies entirely and wonder why they don’t add subtitles to the screen when they show them in non English speaking countries!)
One of the reasons English sounds different when spoken by a native speaker is that, they stress a few words in any sentence they speak. English is a stress- timed language. This means some syllables will be longer and some will be shorter. While many other languages, like the ones we speak in our country, are considered syllable- timed.
What does that mean?
It means that, in English, we give stress to certain words (called the content words) while other words (called the function words), are quickly spoken. Native speakers spend more time on specific stress words while quickly gliding over the other less important words. It is important for non native speakers, to understand which words are generally stressed and which are not. As a rule, it is usually the nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs that are stressed.
The next time you have an opportunity to listen to a native speaker, concentrate on the stressed words rather than giving importance to each syllable or word in the sentence. You will soon find that you can understand and communicate more because you begin to listen for stressed words.
All those words that you thought you didn’t understand are really not crucial for understanding the sense or making yourself understood.