You’re listening to two native Spanish-speaking friends chit chat.
They were talking about some new restaurant just a minute ago, but now they’ve changed topic and you’re completely lost.
The speed isn’t helping either, and they show no signs of slowing down.
Has this ever happened to you before?
It’s understandable, since listening to native Spanish speakers is nothing like your Spanish teacher or that textbook audio CD. And oh boy, are some varieties of Spanish ever fast!
So we need to practice our Spanish listening skills, simple as that.
There are two steps to improving your listening skills. First of all, you need to bombard your ears with as much Spanish as possible. So much Spanish that your ears will almost forget what English sounds like. Secondly, you need to learn how to become a good listener in order to get the most out of that juicy listening experience.
To get you working on both of those steps, here are twelve ways to practice your Spanish listening skills:
12 Ways to Practice Your Spanish Listening Skills
1. Find a Spanish Speaker
In order to have the most productive and enjoyable listening experience, you need to have a conversation with someone who not only speaks Spanish, but is patient and preferably, interesting. Talking to someone who’s also learning a language means that they are likely to be sympathetic to your language learning needs. That is, they won’t tell you to hurry up and get on with it if you find yourself searching for a word for a good minute or two.
This means that Spanish classes are an ideal time to chat away to fellow learners (don’t waste your breaks talking in English, people!), or else find someone who speaks Spanish and wants to learn English. A good way to find the latter is to go to a conversation exchange website or event.
Once you’ve found your partner, you need to latch onto them like a leech until you’ve sucked out as much listening practice as possible. Ask your partner as many questions as you can, and hang on their every word as they answer. Even if they’re a bit weird, still try to listen as much as possible. After all, they speak the language you want to learn.
2. Listen to Spanish Podcasts
Podcasts are the new radio. You can listen to them whenever you like, fast-forward any bits that don’t interest you and carry them around with you on your cell phone or tablet.
There are many great podcasts that can help you on your quest to listen like a native. The good thing about podcasts, as opposed to radio, is you can play them as many times as you like – so don’t panic if you can’t understand everything right away.
Listen at first to get the gist of what’s going on, and then replay parts of the podcast slowly to try to gather information. It’s fine to spend half an hour figuring out five minutes of a podcast if you want to focus on listening for detail.
Otherwise, listen to the whole podcast, ignore any words you don’t know and focus on trying to get the main idea.
Both approaches are great for developing the listening skills you’ll need in everyday life: listening for gist, and listening for specific information.
3. Watch Movies in Spanish
Like in real life, movies have the added benefit that they have both audio and visual cues to help you figure out what’s going on. There are lots of great movies out there to help you improve.
As with podcasts, you can watch parts of the movie to get the general idea, and then watch again to figure out more information. You can also read the subtitles and listen at the same time, and then watch without subtitles once you feel more confident.
4. Watch TV in Spanish
Spanish-language TV also has a lot to offer the aspiring Spanish speaker. If you’re lucky enough to live in a Spanish-speaking country, try watching children’s TV programs or the news to get you started, and then work your way up to more complicated shows.
Another good idea is to watch TV shows in Spanish that you have already seen in English, series like “Friends” or “The Simpsons” for example. Since you already know the storyline, you can just focus on the language. If you don’t live in a Spanish-speaking country, never fear. Try wwitv.com for links to TV channels in a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.
5. Learn Spanish with Real-world Videos on FluentU
One of the challenges of using movies and TV shows is that it’s authentic content, and that means it can be REALLY hard.
Luckily, there’s an answer for that: FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU does this in 2 ways. First, you can watch videos with interactive captions that you can click on to see definitions, example sentences, and even examples of the word in other videos.
Second, there is a “learn mode” that is a quiz, but which uses the video examples as the material for questions.
The best part?
Start using FluentU for free on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
6. Switch All Devices/Sites to Spanish
To truly immerse yourself in the language, switch to Spanish. Anything that you usually read or listen to in English should be in Spanish instead. That means switching your phone’s language, and making the most of the Spanish-language on social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest.
You can also listen to Spanish music and learn the lyrics through Fluent U videos or Lyrics Training. You can then practice your new songs at karaoke, or in front of the mirror if you think the world isn’t ready to hear them yet.
7. Watch Videos in Spanish
As well as the variety of videos available from Fluent U, YouTube has a wealth of videos for the Spanish learner. Besides the videos that are designed specifically for learning Spanish, you can also browse popular videos in various countries by typing “popular YouTube videos in [country name]” into Google. YouTube will then show a list of videos that are popular in that country, and you can click at random until you find something that interests you.
8. Start Asking Questions When Listening
Listening passively to the Spanish language is not enough to make you a fantastic Spanish listener. You need to start listening actively, which means noticing new vocabulary or patterns of words, and asking questions.
If you’re listening to someone, don’t be afraid to interrupt them to ask what a word means. If there’s not a real person to ask, write down the vocabulary you don’t understand and look it up, or save it for later when you can ask your teacher or Spanish-speaking friend.
9. Talk on the Phone in Spanish
Chatting on the phone is an excellent way to refine your listening skills. The lack of non-verbal cues mean you’ll really have to tune in to what the other person is saying. Don’t turn on the video, though. That’s cheating.
10. Leave Voice Messages, Not Text Messages
Sending a Spanish text message to your friends? Why not record a voice message instead? This is not only a good way to practice your speaking skills and get used to the sound of your own voice in Spanish, but is also great practice when your friends reply in the same way. Make sure you’re firm on this point and ask for voice, not text messages from your Spanish-speaking friends from now on.
11. Keep a Clear Record of Your New Spanish Vocabulary
Once you’ve discovered the meaning of your new Spanish vocabulary, be sure to record it somehow. This might mean storing it in your phone, writing it down with a translation or drawing a picture of the word in your notebook. In general, you’ll tend to remember words better if you can remember when you learned them, so writing down the context can be a really useful tool for recalling what the word means later.
For example, if you hear the word inundación (flood) while watching a news report about Bolivia, you could record the word with a note to yourself about where you heard it (news CNN, Bolivia) and an example sentence (Hoy: Inundaciones afectaron a miles de personas en Bolivia). The more information you add to your notes, the more likely you are to not only learn the word, but to be able to use it in the future.
12. Review New Vocabulary Often
In order to remember new words and incorporate them into your own vocabulary, you’ll need to review them often – but just do a little at a time. This might mean reviewing your Spanish notebook for ten minutes before you go to sleep, or writing vocabulary in a place where you’ll see it often (e.g. tacked up on the bathroom wall). Reviewing vocabulary will also help you recognize words when you hear them the next time, so your listening will keep on improving.
Don’t forget that you might not even catch or understand everything that is said in your own language, so don’t expect to understand every single word when listening in Spanish. Just use our tips to focus on getting a little bit better every day, and you’ll get there eventually. Good luck!
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