Does this sound familiar?
You’ve studied a bit (or a lot) of Spanish. You have a solid grasp of grammar and a nice base of vocabulary.
Overall, you’re feeling confident in your skills and capabilities.
That is, until you enter a bar in a Spanish-speaking country and try to have a conversation for the first time.
After all, speaking with natives is one of the true tests of language fluency.
Then bam! The speed of the spoken language, the endless jokes and the use of regional expressions completely blows you out of the water!
Once again you feel lost.
I know this feeling because I’ve experienced it before! And I’m sure that it’s a very universal feeling for all Spanish learners, especially when it comes to listening.
That’s why it’s so important to practice with quality resources, take the right approach and follow insider tips.
Because the key to great Spanish starts with the ears.
So, are you after super Spanish listening skills?
Then keep reading (and listening!)
You’ve got this.
Why Is Spanish Listening Important?
First and foremost, Spanish is a global language and the second most spoken language in the world. This is if you’re counting in terms of native speakers.
Also, it’s a great skill to get ahead in the global marketplace, meet and engage with new people from different regions and enjoy an entirely new world of entertainment. Whether it’s with film, Spanish TV shows or even music, being able to understand Spanish is a great way to become familiar with different art and culture.
Basically, being able to listen and communicate in Spanish, in general, is a top skill for the future and will positively impact many different areas of your life.
However, this does come at a price. Spanish listening can indeed be a difficult component of the learning journey. For example, if you’re doing some Spanish listening practice you may only catch bits and pieces and find the process quite challenging.
This is because Spanish is also the second-fastest spoken language in the world!
Being able to overcome this initial hurdle will definitely pay dividends. You’ll get more enjoyment out of the language and you’ll find other benefits in your overall skills. For one point of reference, if you’re learning with Spanish audio then you’ll also be developing a stronger vocabulary.
Listening is also our most used communication tool. We use listening more than any other form of daily communication.
By listening to Spanish from native sources you’ll invariably be learning the native and conversational form of the language. This will help you get familiar with sometimes tricky or intricate parts of listening such as tone, pattern, intonation and general sound of the language.
Listening for context will also help your listening skills develop. This is because there can be many malententidos (misunderstandings) between Spanish speakers and Spanish learners due to homophones.
For example, a commonly confused combination is a ver (to see) haber (to have/be) which although having different spellings are pronounced in exactly the same way.
Once you improve your listening skills you’ll be able to overcome these common listening pitfalls. It’s all about practicing Spanish listening with top-quality audio resources in the right way.
So, let’s take a look at how we can achieve this goal!
How to Improve Your Spanish Listening: 9 Tips to Native Level Listening
1. Use shadowing to train your ears
Did you know that shadowing Spanish is a great strategy to overcome initial roadblocks with regard to sound and intonation?
By listening and repeating the spoken language you are setting yourself on the right path towards improving Spanish listening comprehension skills.
For a quick recap, shadowing is when you listen to an audio clip and then verbally repeat the clip with a focus on your own pronunciation and accuracy. When getting started, there’s no problem with slowing the speed of the clip and breaking it down into manageable chunks. As you progress you can increase the speed and difficulty of the audio content that you are using.
2. Use dictation to help with context learning
Dictation is a great strategy as it combines two skills in one! Dictation forces you to consider the context of the listening input. By writing out the spoken language you’re actively listening to the content and are able to make adjustments and corrections to your written page.
It’s a great way to start thinking about how Spanish “comes together” as a language and to familiarize yourself with some commonly spoken constructions. The other great aspect of dication is that it can be done with pretty much anything, you can learn Spanish by watching movies and dictate key scenes or even use your favorite Spanish drama series.
Don’t forget that you can rewatch key scenes to practice dication and listening in one activity.
3. Active listening with input
This is more of a general approach rather than a specific strategy but it’s by far the most important on the list. In terms of listening strategy, without a doubt, active listening should be the only approach you use. In fact, if you want to practice your Spanish listening comprehension online then it’s very important to opt for activities that are active.
Essentially, this means listening for a purpose or with a specific goal in mind.
I find it’s key to differentiate between times when I’m studying Spanish with audio resources and when I’m simply enjoying content in Spanish. When I’m studying I always focus on an active process and treat it as a proper lesson.
Often, this comes down to the resources that are used as part of an overall study strategy. Without a doubt, one of the top resources is the FluentU Spanish learning program.
In addition to this, there’s a heavy focus on listening input and comprehension.
I personally used and still use FluentU for my Spanish learning and am always excited by the range of content available. There is a video on almost every topic that I search. This means I’m able to blend my personal interests into my Spanish learning strategy. It was one of the key ingredients in helping me to understand native spoken Spanish (and I live in Spain!).
Being a big fan of the television series Breaking Bad I discovered a Colombian version of the TV show through the FluentU program. I was able to both enjoy the series and practice my Spanish listening.
Matched with the FluentU program I was also able to learn more about the series with methods such as watching interviews with the production crew.
4. Create an immersive environment (no matter where you are!)
I truly believe that it’s beneficial to maintain an environment that promotes that which you wish to achieve. For this, it’s vital to design your living space in a way that encourages Spanish listening and learning generally.
What’s great about creating an immersive environment is that this can be achieved in both a Spanish and non-Spanish-speaking region. You can certainly create a Spanish immersive environment in your own home, no matter where it may be in the world. This can be achieved with traditional methods such as labeling objects around your home and listening to Spanish talk radio or more modern strategies such as taking advantage of the latest apps and messenger platforms.
For some great tools and ideas on how to create an immersive environment in your home check out the video below.
Video creator Fallon explores some helpful personal strategies that she implemented in her home to learn Spanish in both a Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking region. These strategies are simple and can be used to build an instant Spanish immersion environment.
The video is from the FluentU Spanish YouTube channel, which has a full range of videos from native content all the way to Spanish learning tips like the ones below.
Be sure to subscribe to the channel now to improve your Spanish listening and all components of Spanish skills.
5. Speak with native speakers
This is perhaps the most obvious of all Spanish listening improvement tips!
However, it can always be improved and is sometimes not carried out in the best way. To properly learn listening skills from native speakers, be clear with your goals and have an actionable plan.
While it can sometimes be a useful exercise to have a simple and unstructured conversation, it’s often much more beneficial to go in with a plan of attack.
Because of this, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly, be sure to inform your speaking partner that you’re learning and that you might find the speed difficult.
You can use a phrase like por favor, puedes hablar más lento (please could you speak more slowly). If you’re having difficulties with the pace or your own ability to understand.
I used to feel awkward about making this request (especially to strangers) but I figured that if I were speaking with an English learner who asked me the same thing I wouldn’t be offended! Also, people are generally very friendly, accommodating and encouraging when it comes to speaking an additional language.
Secondly, you can focus on repetition or one key topic throughout the conversation. This helps with association and context. I found that when first starting out with Spanish, knowing the topic of a discussion greatly benefited my overall ability to understand. This was especially true of more complicated discussions.
6. Relax, break it down and listen to content on familiar topics
Again this is a tip targeted at a beginner to an intermediate level learner but in reality, it’ll suit any Spanish learner who’s practicing their listening skills.
The first tip is self-evident however it needs to be stated. It’s very important to relax when studying Spanish listening. I used to get so frustrated when I couldn’t understand anything and felt embarrassed about going out in public to speak with native speakers. What I instead needed to do was relax and focus on the overall context of the conversation.
From there, it’s much easier to improve listening skills and focus on overall comprehension. Finally, it’s always a great strategy to focus on familiar topics. Due to the overwhelming number of cognates and loan words between English and Spanish if you’re a native English speaker you will find familiar topics a great starting place for Spanish listening.
7. Analyze the best strategy for you and enjoy it
At the end of the day, there are many different approaches to Spanish listening. To find the best personal approach to Spanish listening you may need to consider your learning style/personality, current familiarity with the language and interests.
You’ll also want to consider your reasons and motivations for improving Spanish listening. If you’re a general learner then you might find it beneficial to study Spanish song lyrics and music. Whereas, if you’re learning for academic purposes you may find some of the best Spanish audiobook courses to be a more beneficial resource.
If you’re having success with one approach then continue down this path! Something that’s often forgotten under the dreaded heading of “foreign language study” is enjoyment. Remember to have a bit of fun from time to time.
There are so many great entertainment sources with an added Spanish listening lesson such as Netflix with Spanish subtitles or even learning with Spanish drama series known as the telenovela method.
Whatever it may be, always try to get some enjoyment out of Spanish listening study!
8. Learn the basics of spoken Spanish
Spanish is a great language to learn as it’s almost always spoken as it’s written. But beware as Spanish generally follows stricter rules than a language such as English.
Let’s face it, English is all over the shop when it comes to pronunciation. For example, words like tough, through and dough although sharing clusters of letters, make drastically different sounds when pronounced.
Whereas Spanish is much more transparent in this way as muerta (dead) huerta (vegetable garden) and puerta (door) are all pronounced in the same way, not including the first letter of the word.
It’s both a blessing and a curse.
This is because it’s a comforting feeling to know that once you’ve learned the basics of the sounds you will be able to pronounce and understand Spanish vocabulary well.
At the same time, the similarities can be a challenge, especially when it comes to listening. Sometimes words tend to blend when listening to Spanish and for this, it’s very important to be aware of these sounds
A great way to overcome some of these differences and get familiar with Spanish pronunciation and assist your listening development is to watch and read at the same time. You can watch some dynamic TV series or film and learn Spanish with subtitles.
9. Choose your content wisely
This is an approach to Spanish listening that I’ve found very helpful in my Spanish study. It’s a way of categorizing content based on factors such as speed, clarity and level of formality.
If you’re searching for Spanish listening content that’s clear, direct and slower then it may be a good option to choose from speeches, interviews or even take some online classes.
Whereas if you’re searching for something that’s a bit more culturally significant then you can always opt for content such as Spanish TV commercials or even watching Spanish TV on a live stream.
It’ll depend entirely on your level and comfort with listening in Spanish.
Best Resources for Practicing Spanish Listening
Now we’ve got the strategy it’s time to hunt down some top sources to find our Spanish listening resources. Consider this section an introductory guide that’ll lead you towards some of the best spots to find resources. From there it’s up to you to find specific pieces of content that speak to you (pardon the pun) and be sure to find a nice spread of resources to ensure a complete Spanish listening practice experience.
Let’s take a look.
Subscribe to some great channels on YouTube
YouTube would have to be one of the top sources for finding native Spanish content to learn and study listening!
And it’s no surprise as there are over 1.8 billion users every month. Did you know that YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world? This means that if you want to learn Spanish with YouTube you won’t be short of content and you’ll almost definitely find an answer to your questions!
However, what’s equally important as wanting to learn Spanish with YouTube is knowing how to learn Spanish with YouTube.
I’ve found that when using YouTube to study Spanish listening it’s great to have a mixed bag of videos. By this I mean, be sure to watch Spanish lessons on YouTube but to also find some content that’s more on the entertaining side such as the antics of top Spanish vloggers.
Additionally, for something that’s kind of in-between formal and informal a resource such as TED talks in Spanish can be a great go-to option.
I’ve also found that after Spanish class if I were ever unable to grasp a particular concept or point then I could search YouTube and watch a number of different videos explaining the concept with various approaches. Even watching Spanish YouTube channels with subtitles can be an entertaining and educational approach to learning in this way.
Listen like a native with FluentU
Learning Spanish listening with native content is a great strategy. It helps to train your ear for different Spanish accents, you’ll become accustomed to the tone and pace of spoken Spanish and it’ll even provide valuable insight into native expressions, phrases and slang.
However, putting on a Spanish movie and hoping that your brain will download the content like “The Matrix” isn’t a recommended study method. It’s certainly a great way to fill in some downtime and maybe pick up a little bit of vocabulary here and there.
For a Spanish learner, native Spanish content needs to be treated as a lesson. Thankfully, the FluentU Spanish learning program takes care of that.
Using science-backed learning strategies such as spaced repetition mixed with quizzes and summarization the focus is firmly on Spanish acquisition. Due to the massive library of videos, you’ll be exposed to a number of different sources of materials meaning you’ll cover the expressions, phrases and slang that I discussed earlier. In addition to this, the content is appropriately leveled and will increase in difficulty as you develop your listening skills.
Listen to interesting Spanish topics with podcasts
I think podcasts are great. Although I’m always tempted to listen to podcasts in my native language of English I will often try to sneak some Spanish podcasts onto my list and resist the urge.
Similar to YouTube, there’s a wide range of Spanish podcasts to choose from. You can find some great Spanish learning podcasts or even typical conversation podcasts that natives listen to.
If you’re getting started it would be a worthwhile strategy to check out a review of Coffee Break Spanish and a SpanishPod101 review. These are two of the main options chosen by students when it comes to getting started learning Spanish. This is because they serve as a great introduction and overview.
However, by no means are you restricted to these resources, there are many additional Spanish podcasts to help you sharpen up your listening and develop in other areas.
As you progress in listening capabilities you can start to introduce intermediate Spanish podcasts. Once you’ve achieved a comfortable level of comprehension you can even listen to native Spanish podcasts and advanced Spanish podcasts.
Keep up to date with all the latest drama with Spanish TV shows, movies, telenovelas cartoons and the news!
One of the top benefits of learning Spanish listening is being able to appreciate different types of art in a second or additional language. Once you begin to understand the lyrics of a Spanish song or the storyline of a particular Spanish TV series you really start to value all the effort your put into your Spanish listening development!
Of course, using native content in the form of TV, film and telenovelas is also a fantastic way to develop listening skills in an entertaining and educational way. These days, finding native Spanish entertainment content has never been easier.
Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to find this content and how to go about it!
Take advantage of streaming services and platforms
Without a doubt, the most popular method for finding and enjoying native Spanish content for listening is streaming services. Whether you’re searching for popular Spanish movies on Netflix or wanting to check out the selection of Spanish movies on Hulu many learners will turn to these services to find native content and practice speaking skills.
If you’re streaming movies in Spanish or a fan of Spanish series on Netflix then this is a fantastic first step. Remember to always focus on active listening skills and have a notebook handy or some other strategy to maximize the educational potential of the content.
Don’t forget the wide selection of Spanish movies on Amazon Prime or even using Spanish Disney movies with subtitles. It can also be incredibly beneficial to go beyond your personal interests or common content.
What I mean by this is that learning Spanish with film and movies is great but exploring different genres such as Spanish horror movies (if you’re not a horror fan) can also benefit your listening.
You’ll hear different forms of dialogue, particular vocabulary and a range of different speaking speeds.
Check out some Spanish television online
Watching Spanish TV online is easily done with channel websites that upload popular shows and series. It’s all about finding the right sites and making the most of the content.
The same goes for specific types of content. For example, watching Spanish anime online will require you to visit a particular site, service or even a YouTube channel.
That being said, the options are definitely there and sometimes it’s great to go beyond the “Netflix sphere” and consider other ways to locate Spanish resources for listening study.
Watch telenovelas for an insight into Spanish drama
Although you’ll find telenovelas on many of the previously mentioned resources, they deserve their own section. That’s because learning Spanish with telenovelas has developed into a unique learning method.
You’ll find telenovelas on YouTube, Spanish television, websites and of course many TV channels in native Spanish-speaking regions.
Be sure to follow some of the best telenovelas for learning Spanish and do a bit of research into the method to see if it could work for you.
I promise you’ll get hooked!
Channel your inner kid with Spanish cartoons
Cartoons are and will always be one of my favorite learning methods.
In fact, if you start learning with Spanish cartoons with English subtitles you’ll learn with a resource that has heaps of comprehensible input. In addition to this, the topics are usually basic and the storyline is easy to follow! Check out some great Spanish cartoons and don’t forget that you can watch plenty of English cartoons with a Spanish dub.
Be careful as learning with cartoons can sometimes be a bit tricky due to the “voices” and unique pronunciation. Because of this, you are encouraged to explore lots of different cartoons to find one that clicks.
Stay on top of current global and international affairs with the news
Using news programs is a popular strategy for Spanish listening practice! Once you find some trusted sources for listening and watching Spanish news videos then you can let the learning begin.
Did you know that learning Spanish with the news can actually be quite easy? Due to the context, the input of video and body language cues you can get a great idea of the overall story or ideas from the context.
Being able to watch and understand news in two or more languages is a very impressive skill. Best of all you can fact-check stories across different languages for accuracy!
Dive into some fun Spanish videos
It goes without saying that learning Spanish on YouTube will be the number one go-to resource for content and educational materials. This is because learning with Spanish videos and native content is one of the top ways to study Spanish listening. They’re engaging, entertaining and great for developing listening skills as there’s heaps of comprehensible input.
Movement, action, videos and images all help you to develop your listening skills as you can associate language with visual stimuli. There are indeed many options to learn Spanish with video online.
Because of this, be sure to search for quality Spanish videos. This requires you to think creatively and explore the wide world of Spanish videos. To get you started you could always consider some fun Spanish music videos.
A little Spanish listening party never hurt anybody!
Discover top Spanish music and radio
Spanish music from around the world
One of the great advantages of using Spanish music to practice listening skills is the variety and depth of options. Whether you want to go with some representative styles of Spanish music such as the best salsa songs and bachata songs or dive right into a sub-culture with some alternative Spanish music the options are there for you to explore.
One of the other benefits of learning Spanish through songs and music is how customizable and malleable it can be. By this I mean, you can listen with or without lyrics, choose basic pop-songs or more complex ballads and even develop a wide vocabulary with top Spanish rap songs.
In addition to this, there’s always more to learn. For example, you can maximize apps such as learning Spanish with Spotify, download hit Spanish songs to study again and again or even discover new (and old) artists to learn Spanish music with!
Tune in to some top radio stations
Spanish radio stations present a unique opportunity to study Spanish listening. You can cover many different “styles of listening” from interviews to sports broadcasts and playback radio (radio drama)!
Start by deciding which approach you’re going to take when learning Spanish with Spanish radio. If you’re in a Spanish-speaking country then you may be able to listen locally. Otherwise, you can easily discover Spanish radio stations online to tune in to.
If you’re on the move then it’s always a convenient option to download some Spanish radio apps. This is a great option for travel, gym or even walking down to the shops.
Awesome audio resources
Of course, I can’t neglect the number of incredible Spanish learning audio resources. Spanish audio resource is more of a catch-all phrase that includes a number of study options from a wide array of resources.
For example, you can explore some top resources for advanced Spanish audio or choose from a range of intermediate Spanish audio options. As a beginner, it’s advisable to sample a range of the best Spanish audio resources to see what resonates well with you.
As a final tip, it’s always possible to choose resources that reflect your environment. For example, if you’re living in a South American region you may find great benefit in opting for Latin American Spanish audio options.
Fully immerse yourself with some quality audiobooks
As you advance your listening skills in Spanish it’s important to continue using resources that test your abilities. One of the top ways to gain heaps of Spanish listening immersion is to listen to some classic and modern Spanish audiobooks.
If you’re getting started with audiobooks be sure to choose books that you know or are related to topics you are familiar with. As you progress you can continue to search for more great Spanish audiobooks to practice your listening and learn something new!
How Much Spanish Can I Learn by Listening?
The amount and speed with which it takes to learn Spanish by listening will depend on a number of factors.
First and foremost it will depend on whether you are actively or passively listening to the source material and content. Of course, if you’re listening to Spanish resources with a notebook and worksheet it’s a more active process than listening to a podcast as you’re on the treadmill in the gym. Another great way to actively listen to resources is to include heaps of comprehensible input.
Sometimes there are questions and confusion that arise when it comes to listening in Spanish. Because of this, let’s take a look at some of the most common questions surrounding Spanish learning with listening!
- What exactly is comprehensible input?
Comprehensible input is a language learning hypothesis developed by linguist Stephen Krashen. Basically, your ability to comprehend or infer language (even unknown language) can be heightened or aided by additional information. This could take a number of forms including film, miming, drawings, cartoons and so on the list goes.
Another way to consider comprehensible input is to imagine a baby learning their native language. They don’t have a grammar book and certainly don’t listen to top podcasts. Instead, they observe the world around them and associate spoken language with action, movement and emotions. In addition to this, if they’re lucky their parents will read to them a lot, play cartoons and even sing songs. All this is a step above simple speaking and repeating exercises.
- Can I learn Spanish just from listening?
You can definitely learn Spanish to a reasonable level from listening. That being said, if your definition of “learn Spanish” is to have a full grasp of writing, reading, speaking and listening then you will need to support your goal with additional learning strategies eventually. For example, you may encounter some issues going from a purely listening-based study routine to reading in Spanish.
- How many hours will it take to learn Spanish?
When it comes to timeframes on language learning it becomes challenging to provide a definitive answer. If you’re asking how long it will take to learn Spanish then you’re missing a keyword in there: me! The question should ultimately be how long will it take me to learn Spanish as there are a number of personal factors at play.
For a rough approximation, the Foreign Services Institute (FSI) which is the institution that trains US foreign officials for diplomatic positions estimates that it can take up to 480 hours to learn Spanish.
- Can I learn Spanish in my sleep?
Well yes, but actually no. The answer is kind of.
I, like many, have often wondered if it was possible to learn Spanish while you sleep. While it may not be possible to “learn” in the traditional sense of the word, listening to spoken vocabulary has been shown to aid memory and retention of vocabulary. Think of it as a strategy to kind of supplement the learning. It’s certainly a complicated question and it definitely can’t hurt to give it a try!
When it comes to Spanish listening, consistency is key. I can’t stress enough the importance of starting slow and choosing the right resources. Do you have any favorite strategies for studying Spanish listening? I’d love to hear them (get it) and wish you good luck on your own Spanish listening quest!
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