There are many reasons to learn Spanish, but the most popular is the desire to communicate with native speakers. Even though speaking is probably your main goal, it is of utmost importance that you understand what the interlocutor is saying in order for the conversation to flow. For the majority of language learners, listening comprehension is the most difficult part of language acquisition. The following tips will be helpful to improve your Spanish comprehension skills, as well as other languages.
When you embark on your language journey, listening to a native speaker can be painful. You’re probably wondering why they are speaking so quickly. You cannot control how a native speaker talks in the “real” world, but when you are working in a controlled environment, you call the shots. This is why you need to be aware of your language level and make sure to always listen to podcasts and videos based on your level. If you do not, you will be easily discouraged. A word of advice: what you are listening to should not be so difficult that you want to throw the towel in, but it shouldn’t be so easy that you understand every word you hear. If you feel the podcast or video is much too difficult to understand, try the level right below. If it is too easy, take it up a notch.
When learning the language, make sure you learn from natives, and listen to videos portraying native speakers. There are currently videos created by amateurs that could potentially provide you with good tips to learn Spanish, but not necessarily good pronunciation.
Any podcast, video, TV show, or film you use to improve your level should include transcriptions for the podcasts, as well as subtitles for TV shows and films. All should be in the target language. If you are just listening to videos and podcasts without a transcription, you will certainly become acquainted with the intonation used by native speakers, but it is very likely that you will not grasp very much.
The following is a technique I use with my students and clients via my own Diáfano Method. If used appropriately, you will not only see a significant change in your language comprehension skills, but also in your confidence level.
I love videos because, unlike lengthy films, they are made for a specific language level and with a set of grammar and vocabulary as context. Also, the the interaction between actors will give you a basic idea of the context. I highly recommend that you watch the video 3-4 times. Use my technique as follows:
1) Watch the video without any subtitles. Depending on your level of comprehension, you can watch it a second time.
2) If you have the transcription for the video, read it out loud, and look up any words you do not understand. If you do not have the transcription, put the subtitles on in Spanish, and read the subtitles out loud while the video plays on mute.
3) Watch and listen to the video with the subtitles in Spanish. If you are feeling very confident, you can skip this step and go to 4.
4) Listen to the video and read the subtitles out loud. Keep up with the native speaker.
5) Watch it a final time with the subtitles in English, if you deem it necessary.
6) Occasionally stop the video and practice pronouncing words and repeating them as the native speaker in the video.
The lack of images and context is the reason why I love podcasts: without any clues, it forces you to focus on listening. Because you can listen to podcasts online or opt to download them, they are extremely convenient. Again, you must listen to the podcasts 3-4 times. The technique is very similar to the videos:
1) Listen to podcasts 1-2 times, depending on your level of comprehension.
2) Read the transcription out loud without the podcast. Look up any words you do not understand.
3) Listen to podcasts with the transcription in front of you. If you are feeling very confident, you can skip this step and go to 4.
4) Listen to the podcast while reading the transcription out loud. Keep up with the native speaker.
5) Listen to the podcast at a slower speed level. You should be able to do this both on your computer, if you download the podcast, and on your podcast app. This is a dream come true for language learners.
Movies and TV shows or series allow you to become acquainted with not only the language, but also the culture. The downside is these are not made for language learners, so the speed will be fast. Always listen to movies and watch series that are either originally in Spanish or dubbed in Spanish. Include subtitles in Spanish as well. Notice that when the movie is dubbed in Spanish, but not originally made in Spanish, the subtitles can vary from what the characters are saying. That’s a common technical error.
The universal language of music: We all speak it and dance it. Another way to know the cultures of Latin America and Spain is through music. Nothing is more contagious than the rhythms of merengue, salsa, bachata, tango, flamenco, Spanish rock, cumbia, among others. If you already love a musician, listening to his music in Spanish, and understanding it, will certainly give you more reasons to continue learning the language. It also adds an extra layer of fun to your learning experience. Always have the lyrics to the songs and a clear understanding of the theme and vocabulary. It is also ideal to listen to a song once you have learned the grammar and vocabulary required for it. In other words, if you are still learning the present indicative mood, focus on songs that use the present indicative mood. Do not try songs with the past tense, and definitely stay away from songs that use the subjunctive. Your Spanish instructor is a good source of reference for songs that are appropriate, and even necessary. Of course, if all you want is to listen to a good song, go ahead! Don’t forget to dance ;).
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
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