16 Terrific Ways to Practice Your Spanish Listening Skills
Spanish speakers talk nothing like your Spanish teacher or that textbook CD’s voice—and oh boy, are some varieties of Spanish ever fast!
We need to practice our Spanish listening skills, simple as that.
There are two steps to improving your listening skills: bombard your ears with as much Spanish as possible and become a good listener.
To get you working on both of those steps, here are 16 ways to practice your Spanish listening skills.
- 1. Find a Spanish Speaker
- 2. Listen to Spanish Podcasts
- 3. Watch Movies in Spanish
- 4. Watch TV in Spanish
- 5. Switch All Devices/Sites to Spanish
- 6. Watch Videos in Spanish
- 7. Start Asking Questions When Listening
- 8. Talk on the Phone in Spanish
- 9. Leave Voice Messages, Not Text Messages
- 10. Keep a Clear Record of Your New Spanish Vocabulary
- 11. Review New Vocabulary Often
- 12. Listen to Spanish Songs
- 13. Watch the News in Spanish
- 14. Change Your GPS Language to Spanish
- 15. Listen to Audiobooks
- 16. Find a Spanish Radio Station
- And One More Thing…
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.
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. 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 FluentU 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.
6. Watch Videos in Spanish
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 around until you find something that interests you.
While YouTube can be an excellent resource, it isn’t made for learners and, as such, has a few drawbacks. It can be difficult to tell if a particular piece of content is suitable for your current Spanish level. The subtitles also leave something to be desired, especially if they’re auto-generated (as most are).
The FluentU program is designed to address these and other potential issues that arise when you’re trying to learn with bite-sized videos.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
7. 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.
8. 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 means you’ll really have to tune in to what the other person is saying. Don’t turn on the video, though. That’s cheating.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Review New Vocabulary Often
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.
12. Listen to Spanish Songs
Music is a universal language and an excellent way to train your ears to listen to a foreign language. It has a way of sticking in your brain and helping you remember the words.
Pick a slower song with clearly sung lyrics and listen to it several times over until you get a good feel for it. Then, look up the lyrics in order to fill in any gaps that you might not be able to work out yourself.
Many Latin American songs often have both Spanish and English versions. Listen to the song in both languages, then mark down all the differences between the two versions. For instance, the Shakira song, “She Wolf” has an English version and a Spanish version.
13. Watch the News in Spanish
Most people follow the news on a daily basis, whether it’s a morning show during breakfast, an evening broadcast or even just the weather forecast. As an already established daily ritual, it’s the perfect opportunity to get a regular dose of daily Spanish (an important part of any well-balanced lesson plan).
The good thing about the news is that it’s always very clearly spoken with minimal accent and slang. It’s also good for a beginner because it generally uses easier sentence constructions, simple declarative statements and clear descriptions.
Here’s where you can find Spanish news online:
14. Change Your GPS Language to Spanish
This is a pretty simple one but it’s still an excellent way to get used to hearing Spanish! So you don’t get lost, start out with a route you travel frequently, such as between your home and your work.
This is a particularly good way to practice hearing numbers in Spanish, because the GPS always tells you how far you have to travel before your next turn.
It also helps you to learn vocabulary for giving and receiving directions, one of the most important things to know if you plan on traveling in another country!
15. Listen to Audiobooks
Audiobooks are spoken versions of traditional books. You can purchase downloadable audiobooks, or you can subscribe to a service like Audible which offers a number of great Spanish-language audiobooks.
Regardless, there are some great audiobooks and even audiobook courses to help Spanish learners perfect their skills.
Audiobooks are convenient. You can listen to them anywhere, and if you don’t understand something, you can easily pause and rewind. They’re also immersive: Since books can be rather long, audiobooks offer the opportunity to be fully immersed in the spoken version of a text.
Choose a book at an appropriate level, and write down words or phrases you don’t know and look them up. This will help you expand your vocabulary.
16. Find a Spanish Radio Station
Online radio services like iHeartRadio offer Spanish-language radio stations from the US and often radio stations from other countries like Mexico. These radio stations offer an abundant source of listening resources from around the world.
Radio makes it easy to select regional variations. Just choose a radio station out of your target region.
The diverse array of options means there’s something for everyone. Whether you like sports, news, music or Spanish talk radio, there’s a station out there for you.
Radio is also easy to have on in the background. Passive listening can help you improve your pronunciation, so listening to the radio in the background is a great way to improve your Spanish skills even if you don’t have time to study.
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.
And One More Thing…
If you've made it this far that means you probably enjoy learning Spanish with engaging material and will then love FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
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