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How to listen to Spanish to improve my comprehension.

Why it's important to listen to more Spanish and how to do it to improve our comprehension. We'll explain these two principles that will lay the foundation for our Spanish learning, or more specifically, increase the amount of information we can handle (input) to promote and facilitate the language acquisition process.

Girl Listening spanish podcast

1. Why should we listen to more Spanish in our learning process?

The following four reasons argue for the need for this practice:

1.1. Natural Process: Firstly, because it is what naturally and automatically happens from when we are children and teenagers to when we become young adults. First, we listen and understand, and then we explain complex concepts with words, which we have most likely heard many times before.

1.2. First step to communication: Closely related to the previous point, we must first comprehend information, whether it's questions or presentations, before we can speak and interact. The phrase, "My Spanish is much better when I listen than when I speak" holds true and always will.

1.3. Artificial process: We can describe the second language learning process as an artificial one, meaning it doesn't occur automatically like our native language but is driven by the will to learn. Replicating the situations of the natural process is challenging and sometimes impossible. Nevertheless, our practice should aim to mimic that process as closely as possible, which involves many hours of listening and watching videos with audio.

1.4. The more comprehensive listening, the better the improvement: Many hours of this practice are required to make progress. It may seem obvious, but it's important to emphasize. If we want to enhance our Spanish, listening is an absolutely necessary practice.

2. Examples that illustrate the importance of regular comprehensive listening.

The following three reasons are crucial for understanding why regular listening to Spanish is essential.

2.1. Common basic words in any communication: One, some, who, how many, how, where, why, like this, of, to, more, a few, he, the, that, and, we, and so on. These are words that constantly appear when speaking Spanish. It is even more challenging, if possible, because they almost never appear alone but are connected to other structures: “, algunos niños” | “¿Quiénes? ¿Nosotros?”. | “Viene él y las compañeras de trabajo”.

Lista de palabras comunes en español
Figura 1: Palabras más comunes en el español

2.1. Colloquial words in oral discourse: Uh, well, you know, I mean, yes, no, so, okay, right, isn't it, already, of course, sure, etc. All of these words come up in conversations between people, and in many cases, they simply serve as connectors and hesitations between one idea and the next. They don't provide much relevant information, yet they often lead to confusion and comprehension difficulties when trying to learn a second language.

2.3. High speed: If we combine the previous examples, add common phrases, and put them in a normal conversation, we get approximately 3 to 4 words per second. In a 20-second fragment, between 60 and 80 words may be used. The only way to comprehend these fragments is through repetition, where with each listen, new information is captured, assimilated, and incorporated into our ability to understand similar content in other conversations.

3. How we should approach listening.

We will provide three examples that perfectly illustrate the recommended type of practice.

3.1. Relaxed Listening: It is essential to remember that listening should be relaxed, calm, without any pressure or stress. Keep in mind that the aim is to practice and become familiar with the sounds and words, and, if possible, to approach a full understanding.

escucha español para mejorar comprensión
Figure 2: Illustration of two types of listening to understand Spanish

In our classes, we like to illustrate this idea with the examples from the previous photos. Overly focused listening (Zoom in or stressed listening), where you're searching for specific words or a particular pronunciation, can lead to an incorrect perception of reality or, at the very least, unclear identification.

On the contrary, more open listening, where you're not paying attention to each word but to the overall message (Zoom out or relaxed listening), can often provide us with more and more accurate information regarding the message we aim to understand.

3.2. Regular Repetition: In the natural language acquisition model mentioned earlier, this process takes place over several years and is accompanied by real-life experiences that aid comprehension.

In most cases, unfortunately, this cannot be replicated when learning a second language. Therefore, the closest substitute would be regular and repeated listening practice.

Listening to an audio, video clip, or conversation only once and expecting to understand everything the first time is not feasible. Unless you've had enough practice or prior exposure to the material, repetition for assimilation is necessary. The importance of repetition is highlighted in the following diagram.

repetició escuchar español para mejorar comprensión
Figure 3: Improving Spanish comprehension based on repeated listening.

Again, this is due to the reasons explained in section 2. So, during the initial listens, it's likely that we'll understand one or several words without any connection. Later, thanks to repeated listening, we'll reinforce what we initially grasped, allowing us to focus on other parts of the audio. Finally, after a good number of more listens, most of the message, although not always 100%, will be understood.

3.3. Access to Transcription: Whenever possible, this tool will help you supplement your understanding of what you've heard, as well as making you aware of many of the words mentioned in section 2 that would otherwise go unnoticed.

For this practice, we always recommend the following resources to our students:

Put some of these tips into practice, and gradually, your comprehension will improve. Until then, lots of listening and plenty of patience.

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