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Why hearing your target language “in the wild” may be different than how you learned it (Part 2: sound blending!)

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Apa khabar! Welcome back, language learners, to Adventures in Language!

In this mini-series, we’re talking about why hearing your target language “in the wild” may be different from how you learned it. It all boils down to 3 main things:

  1. idiomatic expressions 

  2. sound blending 

  3. dialectal diversity

Without understanding these 3 main points, it’s easy to lose confidence in your language learning progress. However, once you understand what’s happening under the hood when you go into those real-life conversations, you’ll feel more confident and in control of your language learning process. In our previous article, we talked about the first one (idiomatic expressions). In this article, we’re talking about the second one: sound blending. What is it, why does it matter, and what should you know about it when you’re out having conversations out “in the wild?” Well, 시간낭비 하지말고 (Korean ‘without further ado’), let’s get to it!

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What is sound blending?

Sound blending explains how phrases like ‘Did you ever…?’ come to be pronounced ‘Djever…?’ As in, djever go sky-diving? Djever hike Mount Kilimanjaro? The technical linguistics term for sound blending is coarticulation, and it is named that way because all of the parts of your mouth that move to make sound happen (e.g. your tongue and lips) are called your articulators. And when your articulators overlap, they’re moving in coordination. Thus, coarticulation.

What it has to do with connected speech

Sound blending has a lot to do with what linguists call careful vs. connected speech. Try this experiment: Say the word mountains. Did you do it? Now say the sentence “We went camping in the mountains.” There was probably a difference in how you pronounced the word mountains when you said it by itself versus in the context of a sentence. In careful speech, we pronounce words slowly and intentionally, each sound getting carefully articulated. And often careful speech is how we learn new vocab in our target language. But in real-life conversations “in the wild”, we don’t usually pronounce words with careful speech. Instead, we use “connected speech” -  meaning that the sounds from one word can blend into the words that come before and after them - as in ‘djever’ or ‘wanna.’ And sometimes certain sounds drop out completely or get replaced. For example, in careful speech, most people pronounce the hard /t/ sound in the word mountains. But in connected speech, that /t/ tends to disappear and get replaced with a glottal stop sound [ʔ], which is the sound that happens at the back of the throat when you pronounce the head-shaking phrase uh-uh or the word button quickly.

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The difference between careful vs. connected speech is quite similar to the difference between printed handwriting vs. cursive handwriting. When you print out each letter neatly and clearly -- that’s like careful speech. When you scrawl it all together in cursive -- that’s like connected speech. Which is usually harder to read - clear printing or overlapping cursive? Cursive, of course! When appreciated visually, it’s no wonder connected speech from native speakers can be harder to understand than the careful speech you might be used to through your learning experience!

Why sound blending matters to your language learning

Long story short, sound blending is one of the leading reasons why you might struggle to understand native speakers when they’re speaking quickly. So what can you do about it as a language learner? Train your ear by listening to more authentic, connected speech. If you’re only exposing yourself to careful speech such as vocabulary words spoken in isolation, you won’t be setting yourself up for success. You need to get regular exposure to connected speech. There are many ways to do this: watch YouTube videos in the target language while you do the dishes, listen to music while at the gym, binge a TV series in your free time. For those of you in the Mango fam who use the Mango App, you’ve probably already picked up on the fact that the app is structured to help train your ear for the sound blending that comes with real-life connected speech. We do this in two ways. First, we use real human voices (not AI-generated robot ones). Second, we have our native speaking voice over artists produce target vocabulary both in careful speech and connected speech contexts. And the coolest part of all is that you, the user, can toggle between the two as you go through each lesson.

Finally - let’s just acknowledge that learning a language is a difficult task!

Training your ear with authentic, connected speech will certainly help your target language comprehension in real-life conversations. Of course, making that one change to your language learning routine won’t guarantee you reach your fluency goals. If you haven’t recently checked in on your language learning goals and progress, we highly recommend you check out our FREE Setting Good Goals worksheet.


Thanks for reading!

Selamat tinggal! Want to upgrade your language learning success?   Sign up here to get your free copy of the Setting Good Goals.

Join the Mango fam!

Wondering what languages were used in this article?

  • English (recording language)

  • Malay | Apa khabar? means 'Hello - how are you?' (lit. Hello - what news?) and Selamat tinggal means ‘goodbye’ (lit. safe leaving) 

  • Korean | 시간낭비 하지말고 means ‘without further ado’ (literally translates as ‘without wasting time’) 

  • Interested in learning English, Malay, Korean, or one of the other 70+ languages that the Mango app offers? Click here to learn more!


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Emily Rae Sabo
Written by Emily Rae Sabo

Emily, a Pittsburgh native, is a linguist at Mango Languages whose areas of specialization are the social and cognitive factors that impact bilingual language processing and production. Having studied 7 languages and lived in various countries abroad, she sees multilingualism—and the cultural diversity that accompanies it—as the coolest of superpowers. Complementary to her work at Mango, Emily is a Lecturer of Spanish at the University of Tennessee, a Producer of the We Are What We Speak docu-series, and get this...a story-telling standup comedian!

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