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Learn to understand natives when self studying

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Owner of egylearn. Been learning Egyptian dialect for 2 years!

Hero image by Jené Stephaniuk on Unsplash

In this post I outline a great way to improve your listening skills quickly and efficiently!

Listening is the most important skill to master #

Listening comprehension is arguably the most important skill for a language learner to acquire. Without being able to understand what people are saying you won’t really be able to communicate at all!

Listening is hard because the way people pronounce words is different to how they are written. It is so much easier to understand written communication (such as texting) than it is to understand verbal communication. This is because native speakers splodge sounds together or even ommit letters when speaking.

Olly from story learning made a really good video on this subject!


  • Pick a short sound clip where you know most if not all of the words
  • Get subtitles in the native language
  • Read the subtitles as you listen to the clip
  • Repeat this process multiple times and your listening comprehension will improve

Take it slow #

Listening is an extremely difficult skill to get good at. The key is to take it slow and listen to the same audio clips multiple times. This lets your brain get accustomed to the sounds of language in a comfortable environment.

A good rule that has worked for me is to take 10 audio clips that are roughly 30 seconds long and keep listening to them over a period of 2 to 3 weeks. I find this is just enough variety for me to not get bored. It also isn’t so much extra content that my brain struggles to keep up and not learn anything.

You need to find a number that works well for you.

Read subtitles as you listen #

This is a key part in my learning process. Without the subtitles you will never understand audio clips of native speakers - no matter how many times you repeat the audio. This is even if you should know all the words being said in the clip.

This is because native speakers smush sounds together, ommit letters or even combine words as they’re talking. The pronounciation of a word might even change depending on the next word in the sentence!

Your brain has no chance of understanding native pronounciation without subtitles. However, when you have subtitles, your brain is able to connect the sounds of the audio to vocabulary. Repeat this process enough times and pretty soon you won’t even need subtitles.

Here is another video by Olly describing why this approach is so effective.

Listen to converstations recorded by natives #

In order to understand conversations at native speed you need to listen to conversations at native speed. It is important that the speakers do not slow down or make an effort to annunciate. The recordings must sound like conversations you would hear on the street.

There are alot of good books nowadays that come filled with natural dialogues. They also come with recordings so you can listen as you read along. I find it’s often worth paying 20 dollars for a really good book as it just speeds up the rate at which you learn significantly.

You can also find short clips of disney or pixar movies dubbed and subtitled on YouTube and Instagram. I find these invaluable as the dialogue is often very fast and I find the material quite engaging.

Resource reccomendations #

As this is egylearn, all the reccomendations I will offer here are for Egyptian Arabic. However I am sure similar types of resources must exist for other languages - especially if they’re popular!

Most of this resource section is taken directly from my post on how to learn egyptian arabic

Books #

  • Kalaam Kull Yawm - An excellent series aimed at false begginers. Each book comes with tons of dialogue for different scenarios.

  • Kallimni Arabi series - There is one book for each level of comprehension. Scenarios include introductions, gossiping about neighbours and asking for directions

Websites #

  • G.L.O.S.S. - An excellent collection of listening excercises developed by the American Defence Language Institute. Every excercise comes with tons of feedback and problems to solve

  • Lingualism - This site has tons of books for every dialect. Some books have dialogues and others are just stories. Every book also comes with an audio recording!

Youtube #

  • Easy Languages - A great YouTube channel featuring tons of street interviews in Egyptian dialect. They also do other languages such as French, Spanish, Urdu etc….

  • MohCoolMan - This channel includes lyrics for music in all kinds of dialects. The best part are the translations of disney songs dubbed in egyptian dialect.

Putting it all together #

Okay, so there has been lots of great advice in this post but how does it all come together?

The main points are this:

  • Find an audio clip you like that is roughly 30 - 60 seconds long
  • Read the subtitles as you listen to the clip
  • Repeat this process multiple times

Now if you listen to the same clip all week it is very likely you will get bored! That is why I reccomend finding approximatley 5 - 10 clips. Then whenever you study listening comprehension you can cycle through the clips.

Checkout this post on how to structure your learning!

It is important you come back to the same clips over multiple days.

Sometimes I have listened to the same clip 10 times in a row and been unable to understand anything. Then I return to the same clip 2 days later and can understand 80% of what is going on! Somehow our brains are able to work on things in the background without us even realising.

Closing thoughts #

You can learn to understand natives my friend. I know it is often a long and frustrating process but if you follow the steps outlined here you will get there eventually!!