But I don't understand spoken English!

OK, before we look at the elements of your own new learning system, we should clarify one very important issue – understanding spoken English. If you ask average students to listen to original English language sources (radio or TV shows on BBC or CNN, podcasts, audio books, CDs or DVDs, etc.), they will look at you in bewilderment. Their response will be "How can I listen to those if I don't understand English? Those people speak much too fast for me, and they have such difficult accents!"

Some learners even claim that native speakers on CNN or the BBC speak 'slang'. That's not true, of course. Most of the time, standard English is spoken on those stations. The logic of the average English learner is this:

"I can't watch or listen to native media because it's too difficult." Winners, however, follow a completely different logic. They think like this: "If I don't understand everything when I hear native speakers talking, I must listen more instead of less."

There is another fundamental advantage that winners have over the average English learner: They know that 'understanding English' has two meanings. First, it means that you can distinguish the sounds of the words and phrases you hear, so when you listen, you understand them 'phonetically'. You have to understand the meanings of those sounds, of course, but before you do that, you need to expose your ears to the sounds of the language on an ongoing basis, so that you become able to make out words and phrases. This is an important fact that average learners frequently miss. They think that they can somehow understand the meanings of words without being able to actually distinguish those words phonetically.

The second definition of 'understanding English' is to understand the meanings of those words and phrases. As you have seen, you can't separate the two steps of the 'understanding' process from each other. Conventional English schools and classes don't provide you with sufficient training in the phonetic understanding of spoken English. They do sometimes offer exercises for 'listening comprehension', which means that you first listen to an audio recording and then answer questions about it. But these recordings are usually made for ESL learners, and they don't really help much, because the spoken English on those recordings is artificial. It's unlikely that you will ever hear native speakers talk that way. Your goal is to understand and communicate with native speakers, and there is only one way to achieve that: by exposing yourself to as much authentic spoken English as possible. Later in this book you will learn how to acquire new words and phrases by just listening to them.