As a Spanish major at UC Irvine, one of the most difficult aspects of learning Spanish was listening and being able to comprehend the words that native Spanish speakers told me. Being a visual learner, reading and writing Spanish always came more naturally to me. Two main reasons why Spanish listening can be difficult for a non-native speaker are speed and accents.
Back in college, whenever I heard a Spanish native speaker talk, initially I felt that they were speaking so quickly that I couldn’t keep track of all the words they’re saying. In turn, I’d have to ask them to repeat themselves multiple times. The other option was saying mas despacio or “more slowly” to whoever I spoke with in Spanish. The other struggle was being able to understand different Spanish accents. In Southern California, I spoke directly with Mexican Americans and became familiar with their accent. Whenever, I spoke to Spanish speakers from a different country such as Argentina or Spain, the accents were so different that it felt they were speaking an entirely different language. It’s similar to how American English is significantly different from Australian English or British English.
I realized that if I want to become an effective Spanish speaker, it would require extra effort beyond listening to a Spanish language program or taking a Spanish college class. To advance my listening skills further, I took the following steps:
- Listen to Spanish music! YouTube has a great array of Spanish music videos that you can listen to for free. Also, there are many opportunities to listen to music not just from Mexico but other countries including Colombia, Argentina, Panama, etc. This way you can get more exposure to different accents and see how words are pronounced differently.
- Watch Spanish telenovelas! Telenovelas or soap operas are a popular form of television shows in many Spanish speaking countries. Even if the my native country of the Philippines, soap operas or teleserye are extremely popular as well. Telenovelas are useful because they offer insight into a country’s culture even if it may be an exaggerated depiction. Also, many of the plots are interesting if you prefer watching dramas.
Check out Latina magazine’s top 10 list of favorite telenovelas if you are looking for recommendations!
- Watch Spanish movies! Think telenovelas are too overdramatic? Then maybe a Spanish movie is what you’re looking for. The best thing about watching a Spanish movie is that you can see the difference in cinematography, culture and acting. You can also watch Spanish commercials as well if you don’t have time to watch a two-hour movie. If Spanish movies or telenovelas aren’t your thing, then you can watch your movie or television show of choice and try to find Spanish subtitles.
Check out FilmCraves list of best Spanish movies of all time!
- Listen to Advanced Spanish language programs. If you already have access to a language program such as Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone or Berlitz, you can listen to the advanced level versions of the program and try to follow what they’re saying.
- Speak with a friend! If you have a friend or significant other that speaks Spanish, speak with them in Spanish all the time! It’s the best way to learn new vocabulary and improve your Spanish accent as well.
No matter what way you decide to improve your Spanish listening skills, all you have to do is just start! Try focusing on listening to a Spanish tv show/telenovela/movie/etc. for 30 minutes to 1 hour a day and you’ll be well on your way to improving your listening skills.