Updated: Jul 10
Spanish is a smooth and even pretty language to listen to. However, frankly, when you’re on a Spanish-learning adventure, listening is often a steeper path than reading, unless you already have decent listening experience. For that reason, we’ll first relay some insight into the skill of listening. Simply put, Spanish pronunciation is further away from English than reading. In effect, Spanish words don’t sound as similar to English words as they look. Then, spoken words move along in real time (unlike still words on a page). So it’s normal if listening is more difficult. After two big tips that help in a big way, we’ll get to the fun stuff!
These two recommendations can save you lots of time and energy on listening:
Learn the sounds of your language first. As Gabriel Wyner recommends in his great material on language learning, take the time to learn the sounds of your language. What do the letters sound like? What do they sound like when combined with other letters? What syllables tend to get stressed, as in emphasized? Learning the sounds early is also a logical beginner step for speech pathologists.
Find audio with transcripts. When you listen to audio, it helps immensely to read matching words in time with it. This helps bridge the gap to recognizing spoken Spanish words faster. You can’t gather the meaning of the words if you can’t detect the words. Following along to audio helps train your brain for what to expect when there is no matching text in front of you.
Let’s move on to the fun, positive ways you can become a Spanish-listening superstar.
Music - Fortunately, music is a great way to practice Spanish. Most people at least find music pleasant. Many Americans love a few Spanish jams already, like Feliz Navidad (the Christmas song) or Justin Beiber’s Despacito. For listening beginners, music videos of slow songs with clear lyrics are the way to go. Afterward, you can move to videos without the lyrics. Listening to the audio without subtitles would be the next step.
Although we seldom recommend apps, Lyricstraining (SSLP has no affiliation) manages musical language learning. It even gamifies language learning in an incredible way. That is, it makes learning and practice like a game and often provides a score.
Podcasts - In the past, language learners had to struggle through dense and jargon-filled newscasts to try to practice a language. Nowadays, audio (and videos with audio) are available on many devices. Best of all, there are podcasts made by language teachers, and advanced language learners, designed for learning. How do they help learning? First of all, they design the audio for learning purposes. Speakers go slowly and avoid slang. Sometimes they review what happened afterward in English. Beyond that, some have an accompanying website offering transcripts, show notes and additional material. ¡Perfecto!
If you do want to listen to the news in Spanish, nowadays more news websites are offering combos of audio and transcriptions, or articles with playable audio. Of course, add online videos, perhaps with subtitles, to your to-listen list too. In the twenty-first century, you’ve got to take advantage of the great free listening practice available through podcasts and dual-mode online news.
Live Practice - A great way to get listening practice is with a conversation group or partner. Finding groups online is easier than ever. They may meet in person or on online. Facebook and other social media platforms have conversation pages and groups. It’s a great way to listen to learners who are more advanced than you and maybe native speakers too.
A modern way to practice is through conversation apps. They usually have several options, like typing to one another, sending voice messages or calling. Having a native speaker in the U.S. or another country send you voice messages or speak to you live is correct, meaningful communication to which you must respond. That’s the best type of practice.