Top 10 Free Ways to Improve Listening Comprehension in Spanish

group conversation

If there’s one area I wish I could go back in time and work on more it would be listening comprehension. I would place a bigger emphasis on listening comprehension. It’s easy to learn new words if you practice and study enough, it’s easy to learn to read and write if you practice enough, but understanding the spoken word is more difficult. You do not have as much control over what is being said or how it’s pronounced. Native speakers of any language take short cuts to speak faster.  They slur words or partially pronounce them. We do the same in English. With all that being said there are many different ways to invest your time to improve your ear’s ability to pick up spoken Spanish. It does not matter what skill or experience level you are, any of these can either help you create a good base of knowledge of pronunciation or assist you in understanding the overall message when someone is speaking. Or if you have spoken Spanish for years this list can help you continue to improve.  I still do many of these myself to get better or to maintain my skills.  Here are my current top 10.

10. Radio DJs: I’m referring specifically to when there are at least two of them talking to each other between the songs. This is a great way to hear random conversations. Random is good because you cannot predict what will be said, this forces you to rely on your ear.

9.   Radio Talk Shows: when broadcasters or DJs invite a special guest onto their show who in turn answer calls from listeners this is a great way to hear more interactions. You can learn more Spanish vocabulary related to specific topics. This is another simple and easily-accessible way to invest your time into improving your listening comprehension.

8. Spanish Songs with Lyrics: Youtube has a treasure chest full of songs that show the lyrics. Many fans upload the song and create their own slide show presentation. First watch the video and read the words many times until you get familiar with all the words. Then listen to the song over and over without the help of the lyrics. This way you do not rely on reading the words, eliminate the visual aid. Check on reggaeton, Spanish pop, salsa or bachata songs.

7. Radio Commercials: Humorous, serious, jingles, real-life situations and more. Spanish commercials on the radio are fun to listen to and will help you to understand the overall message. Even if you just understand a few words you will probably understand what the product or service is that is being promoted. Just turn on your radio while you are driving, listen to the music and to the commercials in between.

6. TV Commercials: The combination of visual aids and audio provide a complete way of learning new words, phrases and above all another way to force you to try to understand what the message is. You will have a much easier time understanding TV commercials versus radio commercials, but I do recommend both.

5. Children’s TV Shows/ DVDs: The simpler, less deep content is easier to follow and refreshing. Many shows use many visual aids and display words with the intention of teaching Latin children how to learn Spanish. For anyone starting out learning Spanish this would the number one way to improve Spanish listening comprehension. This method also serves as a way to learn new vocabulary and how to construct sentences.

4. Comedy Shows: There’s a slew of them. I admit I haven’t watched any in a long while, but they are another less intense, laid back way to practice. Many jokes will go right over your head, but you will pick up more than you think. It’s a great way to learn a bit about the Latin culture to get a little glimpse on their sense of humor. Just be aware some of the humor is a little over the top.

3. Game Shows: I give an edge to game shows over comedy shows because there is more dialogue and less staged situations. Real life, everyday people participate in the show and share many random comments. The shows typically mix in commercials and sales pitches which adds to the variety of topics appearing on the shows.

2. Science and Nature Shows: I place this second simply as a preference. I enjoy watching them. There is a lot of dialogue which enhances your vocabulary. The game shows and comedy shows are great but they can be so goofy that I can only watch for a little bit. Nature shows on the other hand are more interesting to me and I don’t tend to get distracted like I do with the other types of shows.

1. The News: Local news, international or national news. Hands down the best way that tops this list. These are the best types of shows to improve Spanish listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar. You get it all, visual aids, dialogue, current events for cultural orientation and many different types of accents. Tune into different channels to mix up the stories and accents. You will find that some accents are easier to understand do to their clarity of speech.

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Spanish Pronunciation and Fluency Practice

Speaking Skills: Intermediate Level

One of the biggest compliments you could get regarding your Spanish is a native speaker telling you that your Spanish accent was so good that they thought you were either a native yourself or that you have Latin roots. You will probably never speak just like a native, sorry, but it still feels good to know you are doing something right, something better than the average speaker of Spanish as a second language.

Speaking with a thick American or other non-native accent is not the end of the world though. In fact, I don’t think it is very important for communicating effectively.  However, speaking with little or no accent does have many benefits, namely earning respect of native speakers and providing them more confidence in your ability to hold a conversation with them.  Although a strong accent doesn’t mean someone doesn’t speak well, it can impede effective communication. It certainly be difficult to understand. Think about it. Remember that time you asked someone for help at a local supermarket or a tourist asked you for help and they had a rough accent, what did you think? My first thought usually is, “Wow, I wonder if they understand what I’m going to say.”

This can become a distraction.

A trick I learned to achieve more fluency in my speech was to run words together, like native speakers do rather than separate them too much.  For example, in English as you are speaking with your girlfriend or boyfriend you might say, “I think about you all the time.” In normal speed this may sound like many words stuck together, something like, “Ithinkaboutyou – allthetime,” two words, right? Well in Spanish it’s no different. Instead of separating the words so distinctly start combining them. So translating what we just said in English to Spanish you get, “Te pienso todo el tiempo,” (five separated words). Let’s combine them and make it, “Tepienso  – todoeltiempo,” again changing the word count to two.

Let’s try smaller words clusters. Consider changing the following examples.

Spanish                                                                English

Tus ojos               tusojos                 “your eyes”

Te quiero             tequiero              “I love you.”

Te lo digo             telodigo               “I’ll tell you”

Te extrano          teextrano            “I miss you”

This technique is especially helpful when you advance is your grammar and you say sentences like the these:

Spanish                                                                          English

Me lo dió.              Melodio.                                      “He gave it to me.”

Me lo regaló.      Meloregalo.                               “She gave it to me (as a gift)” (Literally- She gifted it to me.)

Se lo dijeron.     Selodijeron.                               “They told him (it).

Lo, la, le, se are examples of indirect and direct objects. Some of the examples are “it”, “me”, “them” and so on in English. What’s makes it tough is the order is backwards in Spanish. It forces you to think a few extra seconds to get it right. “Wait, um, ‘Dio lo me,’ no , I mean, ‘Lo me dio,’ no!” When you do start to get how to say them in the correct order you will probably separate them too much, thus sounding a little rough. I’ve heard other English speakers creating too many pauses in between the words. That’s why I recommend blending the words together.

Improve Your Spanish Listening Skills with Music: Bailando por Ahí- Juan Magan

Skill Level: All Levels

Listening skills are every important when learning another language. You can learn how to speak by predominantly studying the written language, but focusing too much on the written language can cause problems when someone is speaking to you. Sure you will still be able to understand them fairly well, but in the end if you understand what someone says then you can communicate your message even with basic Spanish sentences.

If I had to learn all over again I would have taken more time practicing with music. Nowadays with the internet it is very easy to access good materials to help you practice. The song I have chosen here has a good, catchy chorus and is upbeat. It’s currently being played often a lot on the radio stations in Orlando. Keep in mind you must listen to songs over and over again before you can effortlessly comprehend the lyrics. In Spanish lyrics are referred to as “letras”. So if you want to find a song’s “letras” you could either do a search like “bailando por ahi con letras” or simply go to my favorite site for lyrics www.musica.com.

So here is how we are going to approach and complete this exercise…

INSTRUCTIONS: Spanish Listening Skills Exercise

I. Objective. Improve your ability to hear and comprehend Spanish without translating to English.

II. Goal. Learn and memorize phrases and words by hearing them.

III. Steps.

1. Listen to song 3x- do NOT look at lyrics.

2. Listen to song 3x- look at lyrics.

3. Listen to song 2x- look at lyrics, repeat phrases, sentences or words from list.

4. Listen to song 2x- do NOT look at lyrics, repeat phrases and words from list.

(Download and print the Spanish listening exercise for this post.)

First, read the instructions above then click on the video link below. The video is a lyric slideshow. Listen to the song and follow along with the words. You can print off the complete lyrics down below as well, I got them from the “letras completas” shown link below. You will learn the song’s chorus and so I have highlighted the chorus in the printed version throughout the song.

I like this song below for this exercise because besides sounding good the chorus is catchy and simple to learn. Music is a great way to allow Spanish to be ingrained in our minds without having to translate or depend too much on the written words. My favorite website for Spanish-song lyrics is www.musica.com. They are completed by volunteers on the site and sometimes are not completely accurate, but they are more than sufficient to help us improve our Spanish listening skills.

BAILANDO POR AHÍ

Juan Magan

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4RxUJCZaqg

Letras completes (lyrics): http://www.musica.com/letras.asp?letra=1932054

Expresiones/Oraciones (Phrases/Sentences)

Significados (Meanings)

Ayer la vi bailando por ahí con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid.

Yesterday I saw her dancing there with her friends in a street in Madrid.

Tan linda como en el día que la conocí
Fueron los días más felices para mí

(She was) as beautiful like the day I met her. (Those) were happiest days for me.

BAILANDO POR AHÍ

Juan Magan

(Lyrics from www.musica.com Meant only for educative purposes.)

(Ayer la vi)
Ayer la vi desde hace mucho tiempo y..
( con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid)
Me arrepiento tanto de haberte dicho adiós
( fueron los días más felices para mí )

Coro: 
Ayer la vi bailando por ahí
Con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid
Tan linda como en el día que la conocí
Fueron los días más felices para mí

Ayer la vi bailando por ahí
Con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid
Tan linda como en el día que la conocí
Fueron los días más felices para mí ‘

Ella es loca por ritmo latino
Se prende en la pista bailando conmigo
El aroma, se toca, me mira
Y yo electrónicamente encendido
No me atrevo oh oh a decirle na’ ah
Me hago el duro pidiendo una copa
Sentado en la barra del bar ah ah
Me acerco a su lado, le cojo el pelo
Le canto canciones al oído
Tu quisieras una cita conmigo
Te sigo en el Twitter si quieres te escribo
De repente tra tra llegó su novio ya ah
Si no la vas a cuidar échate pa’atras tra

( Ayer la vi)
Es inevitable verla, una pareja se pierde en la rutina
Las cosas cotidianas de la vida
Y por eso deberías regalarle
cada día una sonrisa a tu bebé