The key to understanding natural spoken English
Today a friend told me a story. She was doing translation work at a booth in a restaurant trade show. She was translating for the CEO of a company that made high-quality kitchen knives.
This CEO had studied English, but hadn't gotten many chances to use English in real situations. So he was able to understand some things, but needed help with others.
After one customer left, the CEO asked my friend in Japanese, "What was that guy saying? He kept saying 'vanna', 'vanna'."
My friend thought for a second, and then said, "Oh, he was asking what the advantages of using these knives were – 'ad-VAN-tage'."
The key is Stress!
Stress can make English difficult to understand at times. Native English speakers pronounce stressed syllables clearly, but unstressed syllables can be hard to hear. They're said quietly, or sometimes dropped completely. The sounds of the vowels changes too.
One of the keys to understanding natural English is learning to "fill in the blanks" between stressed syllables. So you might hear:
WHA --- VAN --- OF --- THIS KNIFE?
You have to figure out that this means "What are the advantages of using this knife?"
It might seem impossible, but it just takes some practice. Make sure that your listening practice includes as much real English as possible.