Of the four language-learning pillars, listening is most likely to induce panic. Speaking, reading and writing can all be done at your own pace, but you can’t pause native speakers or hit “x0.5 speed”. Classic example – Tina Fey’s 30 Rock character trying out her high school German #hubcap?
Hearing the real language has to happen, but you have to manage it carefully. I had to study French and German between the ages of 11-14, and I remember the feeling of confusion and despair – and a little bit of betrayal – when I went to those countries with my family. You know, you’re suddenly surrounded by native speakers talking Martian(?) and you realise: “oh no. Oh right. I know nothing.” How can you tackle this shock?
Every morning, I listen to two news podcasts. First, I get a five minute German-language version, which helps wake up my brain, and gives me the headlines. Second, I click on the El País podcast, which is a three minute deluge of Spanish I barely understand. I would never recommend it to intermediate learners – it’s too depressing – unless you play it at x0.5 speed and want to hear a drunk newscaster.
It is easy to find the real, slightly bewildering spoken language – you can choose Netflix shows, the evening news, some YouTubers. It is important to expose yourself to the real thing, because this never happened when I was in school, and the learning materials alone cannot reflect how people actually talk. That said, beginner or intermediate listening practice will help you improve in a way that standard resources won’t.
Spanish Listening Tools
- Memrise ‘Sobremesa‘ Podcast (transcripts)
- Coffee Break Spanish (new season just started!)
- Españolistos Podcast (transcripts)
- Easy Spanish (YouTube)
- DELE exam practice with audio files
Also consider finding a tandem partner, Conversation Exchange is a popular site allowing you to find a language partner to swap languages via messaging, skyping or meeting up in your city. It has a ‘classic’ design (ca. 2004?) but there are active users!
If you are in a face to face conversation, you probably won’t understand everything they say. My last piece of advice is to look up – or remind yourself – how to ask the person to slow down, or repeat something, or to rephrase it. Sé valiente y probarlo!