There are four parts to learning any new language: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Which one do you think is the most difficult? The first and easiest to learn are usually the reading and writing. That’s because you can see all the words you need to understand. You can take your time, study them and work them out in your own time. Improving your Spanish listening skills offer no such luxury.
To make matters worse, Spanish is an incredibly fast-spoken language and its mix of accents and dialects can twist words beyond recognition! For many Spanish language learners, listening is the most difficult part of the learning process.
The good news? The more you exercise your brain with listening practice, the stronger it will get! There are more than a few ways you can quickly add some muscle to your brain with various Spanish listening activities. I’ve collected together some of my top tips for improving your Spanish listening skills. Give them a try and see which works best for you…
Watch movies in Spanish with Spanish subtitles
Think of this like learning to ride a bike with the stabilisers on. It combines two areas of language learning – listening and reading. It allows you to follow along with what’s being said without having to decipher only the spoken languages.
Try this: One great exercise is to find a short scene with plenty of dialogue between two characters. Watch it with subtitles a few times until you can distinguish every word. Then watch it a few more times without the subtitles, listening carefully to the words and how they’re spoken.
- Which points of the words are stressed?
- Where are the pauses?
- Which words or phrases are strung together to sound like a single word?
Say the lines out loud as the characters says them. Do this enough times and you’ll never forget how those certain words and phrases are pronounced.
Try this: Did you know that many streaming services, such Amazon Prime and Netflix, offer multi-language subtitles for many of their programmes? That means you can turn on Spanish subtitles to an English-languageshow. If starting with listening in Spanish feels too tricky, test the waters by listening in English and following the Spanish subtitles.
Listen to Spanish songs.
Music is a universal language and an excellent way to train your ears to listen to a foreign language. This can be done easily via YouTube where you can also view and follow the lyrics. Other great places are Apple Music and Spotify – both of which will scroll the lyrics for you as the song plays, karaoke-style. A great way to follow along.
Watch the news in Spanish.
This is perfect opportunity to get a regular dose of daily Spanish and the great thing about the news is that it is (generally) very clearly spoken with minimum accent or slang.
Try this: For practice, watch a news clip and write down the important information: who, what, when, where and why. An excellent source for this is the BBC’s Spanish-language news website, which has a large amount of video news that is clearly spoken and visually easy to follow. Once you’ve done that, try to find an English version of the same news piece and see how much of it you got right.
Change your phone language to Spanish
Our phones are a huge part of our lives now and we use then all the time. It’s amazing how much this small change will help you.
Try this: Head to the Settings area of your phone and you will find the option to switch to Spanish in the Languages section. (Be sure to remember the process so you can switch back to English when needed!)
It can be intimidating at first because you may be afraid of making mistakes or not understanding something correctly, but actually speaking Spanish is one of the best ways to improve your Spanish listening skills. It forces you to really listen to the other person’s responses, so you know how to reply.
Don’t worry. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything that is said! Most people are pretty forgiving if you make mistake. If you really don’t get something, just ask them to repeat it… “otra vez, por favour?” Just ask a lot of questions and listen to the response.
Try this: Attend a Spanish conversation group to chat and practice with other Spanish speakers or students. I run regular such groups, both face to face and online, called SPEAK EASY (the clue’s in the name!) We chat about everyday topics and they are always light, welcoming and fun. The most important thing to remember when you’re improving your Spanish listening skills is to relax and have fun. That’s what language learning is all about!