Many English language learners complain that sometimes it sounds as though all of the words spoken in a sentence are joined together and it is tricky to work out what exactly is being said. Many students complain that it is hard to identify what is important and what is not important because of this. It can be a challenge to decode what is being said.

It is very true that we can become so worried about what we don’t understand that we miss what we do understand.

A good exercise to help you really focus on what you are hearing is “word counting.” Listen to a sentence and try to count the number of words in it. This can be quite challenging at first, particularly if you haven’t ever tried to identify which words are weak or contracted in sentences. Are you aware of the weak forms used? Are you always able to hear the contractions used? This exercise can also help your speaking in English. Our speaking can improve by copying what we hear.

Look at this sentence:

He’d never seen her before.

Clearly, it contains six words. The contracted auxiliary had (making the past perfect simple) is often missed by people “counting” the spoken word. A native listener knows it is there because the past participle (seen) tells us that there is an auxiliary before it. Do you think you would have spotted this if you were listening to the sentence?

Look at this sentence:

He’s a dog lover but he’s scared of cats.

Notice the two contracted forms.

He is a dog lover but he is scared of cats.

The indefinite article a is pronounced /ə/ so he’s and a run together like this:


The preposition of is pronounced /əv/ and is connected to scared:


This is why it is challenging to understand English sometimes.

Listen to the recording below. Try to count the words in the recorded sentences. Don’t write down what you hear. Listen and count.

Can you count the number of words without using your fingers? Try to break down what you are hearing, thinking about the structure of the sentence.

Once you have counted the words, think about the sentence itself. Can it make grammatical sense with the number of words in it that you think it contains?


Read the sentences here

Once you have listened to the sentences and counted the words, you can see the complete sentences here

15 + 1 =