Weekly Tip – 3/6/15

Weekly Tip: Are you listening?

The tip today is for the talkers…the ones who have no problem speaking Spanish in class and with everyone they meet, the ones that love to talk in life, in general, English, Spanish, it doesn’t matter. This blog is for you ☺

So you have no problem speaking Spanish. That is AWESOME! You are the type of person I would want to travel with if I didn’t speak the language. Someone who is willing to put themselves out there, make mistakes and go for it. You rock!

But I have a question for you. Do you listen?

In the last 9 years that I have been teaching Spanish, I have seen a pattern. About 25% of the students who have no problem speaking, don’t listen to Spanish. They can talk your ear off, but you can’t always have a back and forth conversation with them because they’re not listening or they don’t understand much.

Listening is an incredibly important part of learning a language. This is how you learn pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, comprehension, etc. Without it, there is no conversation – it’s just you talking AT someone, not WITH someone. And after a while, that gets really boring or annoying for the other person.

So why do so many people not take the time to do listening exercises?
I would imagine it’s because it’s frustrating to listen to something that you can’t understand. The problem is that if you don’t take the time to develop this skill, you won’t ever get good at it. So what do you do? Here are a few tips:

1 – Start by watching podcasts or tv. When you have a visual as well as sound, you can understand a lot more of what is going on.

2 – If comprehension is difficult for you, and you want to watch something, I would recommend a series over the news or movies. With a series the characters and the story are developed over time. You have more time to figure out what is going on. And like it or not, telenovelas are the best for learning purposes. They repeat the story several times, everyone gossips about everything to several people, so you get to hear the same thing several times. This repetition will help you learn faster.

3 – Start small. If listening is excruciating because you don’t understand, start with 5 minutes of listening. Once you feel comfortable, go to 10, etc.

4 – Make sure that you are practicing active listening, not passive listening. Active listening means that all of your attention is going to listening. Preferably you are sitting down, with a pen and paper and jotting down some words to look up. Active listening is not something you can do in your car, while you’re cleaning your house, etc. Passive listening does help as well, but it takes much longer to sink in.

5 – English subtitles are very tempting, but they don’t help your Spanish. If you must, use subtitles in Spanish. But if you end up reading the whole movie, then you didn’t practice your comprehension skills at all. So what is the point? The subtitles should be used only when you’re completely lost.

6 – Make sure that you’re listening to something appropriate for your level.
If you’re in the beginner classes, I would recommend Destinos, An Introduction to Spanish – http://www.learner.org/resources/series75.html.
If you’re an intermediate level 1 or 2 student, I would recommend telenovelas (although these are good for all levels).
If you’re in Intermediate 3 or Advanced, you need to start listening to things made for native speakers, not students, like movies (without any subtitles), the news, podcasts like http://radioambulante.org/, etc.
And if you’re in the Advanced 2 (fluent) class, you should be living quite a bit of your life in Spanish if you would like to maintain it. That means that 50% of the radio you listen to, the tv you watch, the podcasts you listen to, etc., should be in Spanish.

7 – The most important tip is to remind yourself of your goal. If you want to improve your comprehension, it’s going to mean listening to what sounds like gibberish for a while. But after a week of practice, you will be able to pick out some words. After a month of practice, you will be able to pick out many more words. After a few months you will start to understand what they’re saying, etc. And this is a beautiful thing!