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Just as there is an art of good speaking, there is an art of good listening.
When we talk about listening skills in relation to language learning, we mean the ability to understand what we hear in Spanish. The very best way to improve your understanding of Spanish is to listen to as much Spanish as you can until your brain registers the information correctly and you understand what you hear. Therefore, the overall aim of good listening practice is to reach an improved level of comprehension with each session.
In order to learn to listen to Spanish and gradually improve your listening comprehension, it is essential to vary both the materials used and their subject matter. Nowadays, there are many resources and activities available that will help you improve your level and understand increasingly complex Spanish dialogues. Among these activities are the following: completing listening comprehension exercises offered within Lengalia’s courses, listening to our podcasts about Spain and Latin America, and watching series and films in Spanish (with or without subtitles).
Table of contents
1. Why does Spanish sound the way it does?
2. Why is it important to learn to listen to Spanish?
3. What strategies does Lengalia recommend for learning to listen to Spanish?
4. What techniques can I use to listen to Spanish?
5. What resources does Lengalia offer for listening to Spanish?
6. What tips are there for listening to Spanish at different levels?
Spanish, like any other language, has its own rhythm, its own music, its own particular melody. When it comes to melody, Spanish speakers have one thing in common: we all speak in llano, that is, most of the words that make up the Spanish language are llanos. This simply means that the penultimate syllable of the word is stressed when pronounced. No less than 80% of the Spanish vocabulary is made up of llano words.
Acute words (where the stress falls on the last syllable) represent only 18% of Spanish words and esdrújulas (where the stress falls on the antepenultimate syllable) represent just 2%. This is a peculiarity of Spanish and is not the case in other Romance languages.
The general melody of the Spanish language differs depending on where it is spoken. Intonation and modulation vary greatly between Spain and Latin America, and the melody of the language can differ even within countries.
When we want to learn Spanish, our main goal is usually to become fluent. This is probably the main objective of most of our students. However, the pressure one can be under to speak without making mistakes and with a certain agility from the very beginning can create frustration and delay the process until the desired fluency is achieved.
To speak Spanish well, you must first learn to listen to it well. Many learners of Spanish claim that they understand what they hear, but for some reason they are unable to speak the language fluently. However, as a general rule, we believe that this is not the case.
On the one hand, there are people who have a good level of reading comprehension, but do not know how to express themselves adequately or understand everything when someone speaks to them. On the other hand, there are few people who understand the spoken language perfectly but have problems when it comes to speaking it themselves. These two skills are closely related. Listening comprehension is one of the most important skills in language learning. Sometimes, if a high level of listening comprehension is achieved, the other skills, such as speaking for example, can be developed more easily later on.
Activities related to improving listening to Spanish have different advantages:
- They are very easy to organise. You can listen to simple stories, enjoy audio books, learn about the history of Spain via specialised podcasts or subscribe to video channels on nutrition, sport, etc. The most appealing aspect is that you can improve your listening skills while carrying out other daily tasks.
- After reaching a certain level of comprehension, you will find that you understand a wide range of topics and are able to have more in-depth conversations with native speakers.
- Listening to Spanish will help you to spot some of the mistakes you make when speaking the language while at the same time solving other grammatical problems.
LISTENING COMPREHENSION: AN IMPORTANT LANGUAGE SKILL
It is sometimes thought that listening to Spanish may be secondary to the development of other more active language skills. To the surprise of many students, learning to listen to Spanish - or to any other foreign language - is not easy and takes time. And, of course, we should not downplay its importance... If you have ever had to sit a language exam, you will know that the listening section is almost always the most difficult.
So, listening to Spanish is a vital skill for language learning. When we communicate, we spend almost half our time listening. But the question is, do we also spend half of our time learning Spanish through listening exercises?
Sometimes, at certain stages of learning, too much pressure is put on learners to produce the language correctly... However, it is unlikely that they will be able to do so because they have not been sufficiently exposed to the language. As a result, unrealistic expectations are created and some learners become overly concerned about making mistakes and even start to doubt themselves. However, by having solid listening comprehension skills, they will speak more naturally and confidently and will in turn feel more confident at all stages of their learning.
This process is a well-known topic for Lengalia, which is why we place so much importance on listening comprehension in Spanish. In our online Spanish courses you will practise with more than 44,000 carefully selected exercises per level. These will enable you to understand the spoken language from the outset and at the same time gradually develop your listening skills as you move up through the levels. The podcasts on Spain and Latin America will help you improve your advanced intermediate level until you become fluent in the language.
Nowadays, with today's technology and access to the internet, it is very easy to listen to native speakers in Spanish. But where should you start? Here are some tips that will help our students develop strategies to enhance their Spanish listening skills:
- Practice active listening. You will find lots of music videos, films or news programmes online (look for programmes from the country whose pronunciation interests you the most). Listen to something that really interests you and play only a small segment, a word, a phrase... Listen to the Spanish and write down in your notebook what you think you have understood. It is enough to write down the general idea of what has been said. Check that your answer is correct if the video has subtitles.
- Practice pronunciation. The way you pronounce or speak Spanish directly affects your ability to understand it. That is why it is so important to learn how to pronounce words correctly. We recommend using our voice recorder.
- Focus on difficult Spanish sounds by starting with the alphabet. If you know how each consonant and vowel sounds, you will be able to pronounce words better. Notice the differences in vowel sounds. Some of the most difficult sounds to master are r and rr. Practise the letters and sounds individually with specific exercises. We recommend our Spanish pronunciation course.
- Choose a song, speech, dialogue or any other audio clip in Spanish that you can repeat. There might also be a transcript available. Break the audio down into sections in Spanish and repeat what the speaker says.
- Make listening to Spanish part of your daily routine. Combine listening and pronunciation activities. Set aside about 10 minutes a day to practise listening comprehension. By doing this daily, it will become part of your routine and improve your Spanish at the same time.
LEARNING TO LISTEN TO SPANISH HELPS TO IMPROVE OTHER SKILLS
For beginners, the most important thing is to get off the starting block and learn enough to start practising the language. At Lengalia we believe it is essential to first develop a solid foundation in both Spanish vocabulary and grammar.
It is important to bear in mind that even once you have learned a new grammar element, it will take some time before you can use it in your conversations in an active, spontaneous way. There is a process of internalisation that follows these steps:
- You hear or read a sentence that includes a new grammatical element.
- You ask yourself, what is this? Then you look up the element in our grammar courses, for example, and try to find out more about it. What does it correspond to in my mother tongue? How is it formed and when should it be used in Spanish?
- Then it is time to use this new grammar element, to make mistakes and to check why you have made mistakes... You will use the new grammar again and again, but each time with greater precision and accuracy. In this way, the knowledge will be internalised as part of the learning process.
- Little by little you will start to notice that you are able to recognise more grammatical elements and rules that you find in written sentences, as well as when you watch videos, films, radio programmes, etc.
- This will lead you to use more and more new grammatical elements more effectively. Little by little they will become part of your speech. When you hear them you will be able to recognise them easily and you will already know the grammatical reasoning underpinning them. This will give you great satisfaction and will motivate you even more to continue learning.
Learning to listen to Spanish will lead you to success in many ways. Understanding a native speaker while travelling or having a conversation will become easier and much more spontaneous, especially if you practice regularly.
There are several factors that are important when listening to Spanish: monitoring comprehension, relating sentences to each other and associating sentences with topics you have already mastered. The aim is always to make listening activities fun and effective for learners of Spanish.
To listen effectively to Spanish and to be able to reap the benefits of doing so, you must do more active listening practice. Therefore, we recommend you have a set plan for each exercise and use effective techniques that can help you reach your goal.
- When you first listen to an audio, try to understand the main idea of what is being said. You do not have to understand all the words, but try to get the general gist of what you have heard.
- Often the context will help you to deduce some of the information, even if you did not understand it at first. Pay attention to the context in which the conversation takes place.
- In addition to understanding words, phrases or sentences, try to pick up on the emotions being expressed.
- Try watching films from a particular country to detect differences in accents. Watch them with subtitles several times until you can distinguish each word. Then watch it a few more times without subtitles, listening carefully to the words and how they are pronounced.
LENGALIA'S METHOD FOR LEARNING TO LISTEN TO SPANISH
A goal without a plan is just a wish. At Lengalia we follow a method for learning Spanish based on learning paths. These expertly designed pathways focus on acquiring a solid foundation in the language that gives the learner the confidence to become fluent in Spanish.
Our learning paths are very useful for students who want to learn to listen to Spanish online in a progressive and dynamic way adapted to each level, from a very basic A1 level to an advanced C2 level.
In the didactics of our courses we have defined various criteria to grade the level of difficulty of the audios such as linguistic structures, cultural content, structural complexity of the text and the amount of vocabulary that the student is supposed to master at a certain level, based on the criteria defined in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).
With Lengalia's method for listening to Spanish, you will feel comfortable listening because the audios are adapted to each level. We provide you with a foundation that will enable you to talk about a wide range of topics.
Every time you make an effort to understand what you hear, you will be increasing your vocabulary and making progress in learning Spanish.
As we have already said, at Lengalia we attach great importance to listening comprehension in Spanish. Therefore, in our courses you will find a large number of exercises aimed at improving this skill. We currently have more than 44 000 audios, all placed at an appropriate point within our learning paths. In addition, we also offer different courses specially dedicated to improving listening to Spanish and improving your level:
- Spanish Podcasts. The podcasts are made up of 65 very useful lessons for learning to listen to Spanish. They will help you learn new expressions for different contexts, distinguish different Spanish accents, improve your pronunciation, etc.
- Additionally, in Lengalia you will find 13 videos in Spanish on the subject of wine and gastronomy in Spain. They are a fun and effective resource for learning to listen to Spanish. There are also videos adapted to your level so that you can learn step by step.
- Finally, if you are interested in learning Spanish for holidays and travel, we also offer online Spanish courses to learn the phrases and vocabulary most commonly used on trips. After completing these courses, you will feel more confident in understanding native speakers during your stay in Spain or in Latin America.
OTHER RESOURCES ONLINE FOR LISTENING TO SPANISH
The internet is full of interesting resources for listening to Spanish. We recommend the following:
- Lyricstraining.com. This is a free website for practising listening comprehension with songs. Before listening to a song in Spanish, get your notebook and pen ready. We suggest you write down the lyrics as you listen. You will find different levels of difficulty to suit your needs at each stage of learning.
- YouTube. You will find all kinds of videos in Spanish on YouTube, including films and music videos. Virtually any communicative situation you can think of can be found on this platform.
- Erre que ELE. This is a Spanish podcast for intermediate and advanced learners that you can listen to on Spotify. They are very short, fun audios.
- OndaCero. There's nothing better than listening to the radio! Firstly, we would like to point out that the topics that are usually covered on the radio are current affairs. If you listen to international news in your mother tongue, you will already be familiar with the lexicon, making it easier for you to understand what the presenters are talking about in Spanish. Secondly, many stations offer a range of programmes on issues ranging from the environment to infectious diseases. Thanks to such diversity, you will be able to immerse yourself in a very broad vocabulary.
When a person embarks on language learning, the aim is to improve every day, even if only a little. Learning is not preparation for life, learning is life itself. In the case of listening comprehension, there are three stages in the Spanish listening strategy.
- Beginner level. There is an initial stage where constant repetition and intensive listening is needed. Most beginner content uses frequently used verbs, so it is easier to recognise them in the audio. Over time, you will begin to understand what you hear much better.
Try to understand the main idea of what you are listening to. You don't have to understand all the words to get the gist. Try to summarise what you have heard in one sentence.
- Intermediate level. At the second stage, you will notice that frequently used verbs do not appear as often and that the vocabulary is more complex. At this stage you have a long way to go to train your brain. Be aware of the context in which the conversation takes place, pick up on the emotions and opinions being expressed.
Try to work more in-depth on the audio you listen to, go through it sentence by sentence and understand its meaning.
- Advanced level. At the third stage, you will understand most of what you hear in Spanish and you will not have to listen to the audio more than once. It will no longer be necessary to set yourself active listening exercises in the same way. Instead, you will be able to listen to and understand things that interest you in Spanish in a much more spontaneous way, such as podcasts about history, literature, politics, nutrition, etc.
As you progress through these stages, your brain gets progressively used to the language. This means you can listen to Spanish purely out of interest, while at the same time learning vocabulary or reviewing vocabulary you already know but perhaps in a different context. Eventually you will be able to listen to audiobooks in Spanish and podcasts you are curious about. You will find you really enjoy it, as well as discovering the culture and the language.
Remember that listening comprehension is one of the most difficult aspects to master when learning Spanish. The most important thing is to practice often and make listening to Spanish part of your daily routine. Every day you will get a little better and, before you know it, you will have mastered listening comprehension.
Jimi Hendrix said that "Knowledge talks but wisdom listens". So the more you listen, the more you will understand, the more you understand, the further you will go.