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After studying Spanish for four years, I thought I was ready to conquer the Spanish speaking world and signed up to live in Barcelona, Spain for a month. I was confident that my skills would shine through and living in a Spanish speaking environment would be a breeze. I stepped off the plane and let’s just say reality sunk in pretty quickly.
Throughout my Spanish courses I heard native speakers talk (through videos or audio clips), but didn't realize how much guidance the teacher provided. I couldn’t believe how fast everyone spoke! I couldn’t understand anyone! Their accents were far different than I was used to and it seemed like everyone blended their words together. I panicked!
Luckily, after a lot of trial and error, I found my groove and adapted to my surroundings. That is when I got to thinking. How could I have prevented a very stressful week of getting used to conversing with native speakers? I realized the answer was simple: I should have practiced listening more.
With today’s technology and access to the internet, practicing listening to native speakers is so easy. But where should you start? Here are 3 ways YOU can practice your Spanish listening skills to avoid making the same mistake I did:
1. Practice Active Listening
This just simply requires you to sit down and listen to someone speaking Spanish. You can do this by using the internet to find music videos, movies, news clips, or sports commentating. Find something that is interests you and play just a small segment.
Listen to the Spanish and write down what you think you heard. Don’t go for a word to word translation, write down the general idea of what was said. Start small and then work your way to a longer portion of the clip. Do not hesitate to replay the clip over as many times as you need it.
After you have finished writing down what was said, verify that your response was correct. You can do this easily if the clip has subtitles. If not, you may have to also write down the Spanish and break down the translation on your own. I would suggest sticking to clips that have subtitles for your first couple of practices.
There are a few great sites that offer listening tools to help you along:
If you are into music this is a great FREE site for you to practice your listening comprehension. Simply select a song (in Spanish) to listen to and type in the lyrics as you hear them. The beginner level provides you with most of the lyrics and you just need to fill in a few that are missing. As you get more advanced, you will eventually be typing in all of the lyrics.
Use podcasts that produce fun and culturally relevant Spanish lessons that you can listen to. Site does offer some free material, but has a paid monthly subscription as well ($4-47/month). Check out our in-depth review.
YouTube is the mecca for finding all types of Spanish videos from telenovelas, to movies, to music videos and beyond. Pretty much anything you can think of is on YouTube.
These FREE Spanish courses are created by the US government that offer a pronunciation component in each lesson that breaks down phrases by syllable.
2. Practice pronunciation
The way you pronounce, or speak, Spanish directly affects your ability to understand it. It you are consistently pronouncing the word “dog” (perro) wrong, you will struggle to understand a native speaker when they say it correctly. That is why it is so important to learn how to pronounce the words correctly.
Along with pronouncing words correctly, your Spanish accent will sound more native, causing the language to sound less foreign to you when you hear it spoken by someone else. As an adult learner of Spanish you will always have a slight accent, but by knowing how to pronounce words correctly, your accent will be harder to detect.
What to Practice
Focus on difficult sounds in Spanish by starting with the alphabet. If you know how every consonant and vowel sounds, you will be able to pronounce words better.
Concentrate on the differences in the vowel sounds from English. For example, the I sound in Spanish sounds like the E in English.
There are 29 letters in the Spanish alphabet so you will have to get used to the 3 extra letters. Some of the more difficult sounds to master are the R and RR. It requires trilling your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Many struggle with this because we have nothing like it in English.
How to Practice
Practice letters and sounds individually with a drill like quality. There is a military style alphabet song in Spanish that has a catchy tune and is easy to remember. Once you have mastered the ABC’s, move on to different types of listening. Pick a song, speech, dialogue, or other Spanish audio clip that you can replay.
Break down your Spanish audio piece by piece by repeating what the speaker is saying. Make sure you are imitating the speaker word for word. If it feels weird you are doing it right! Spanish rap is great audio to imitate and adds an element of fun to the task.
3. Make Listening Part of Your Daily Routine
Combine listening and pronunciation activities into a “daily listening boot camp.” Set aside about 30 minutes a day to practice your listening comprehension. Break it down into 10 minute segments throughout your day:
- 10 minutes vowel/consonant drills
- 10 minutes Listening
- 10 minutes imitation practice
By breaking it down, you can fit it into your schedule easily and it will not take up a large chunk of your time. By doing this daily, it will become part of your routine, and enhance your Spanish at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.
Incorporating a listening comprehension aspect into your Spanish learning will set you up for success in many ways. Understanding a native speaker while traveling or having a conversation will be a breeze, especially if you are practicing daily.
Please make sure to use the comment box below if you have any questions or strategies that have worked for you. We are always here to help!
Keep up the great work! Listening comprehension is one of the harder things to master when learning Spanish. Remember to take things one at a time and don’t forget to make listening to Spanish part of your daily routine. Everyday you will get a little bit better. Before you know it, you will have mastered listening comprehension!