How to Improve Your Spanish Listening Skills

Contributed by Jilynnette Centeno Millan , Spanish Instructor, ILSC-San Francisco
Edited by Lacy Edney, Marketing and Social Media Coordinator, ILSC-San Francisco

listening ear - photo by Flickr user Michela Mongardi

The Listening Ear, photo by Flickr user, Michela Mongardi

Learning a language requires patience, dedication and motivation. I often ask my students how many of them are musicians or play sports, and what these activities have in common. Most of them raise their hands and acknowledge that in order to master an instrument or to be good at a specific sport they must practice every day. It’s the same when learning a language: you have to be dedicated to the process.

If even when you dedicated and don’t see any improvement, it may be that you are choosing the wrong methods. It could also be that you are working on the  same skills, and not noticing that you need to work on other skills. Some language skills, like writing,  are easier than other to acquire and improve. Because writing doesn’t require an instant reaction, it allows you time to think about what you are trying to express. However listening, in my opinion, is one of the hardest skills to improve. There are so many different accents, shortened words and slang. People shorten words, speak fast or slow, and then there’s tone and liaison! That’s why there’s a difference between escuchar (to listen) and oír (to hear), right?

Here are 5 ways to help you improve your Spanish listening skills!

1. Practice online using audio exercises

I suggest starting with audio exercises. You can find a variety of online websites providing free exercises, according to your level . These exercises provide not only the audio, but also the script and comprehension exercises. That way, you can check how much you understood. If you decide to read the script (don’t overdo it!), I suggest paying extra attention to the liaisons, which are very common in Spanish. Paying extra attention to the liaisons will help you to understand that although some words and combinations of words sound the same, the context reveals the meaning. For example,  delfín (dolphin) and del fin (of the end) are two different words than when spoken, sound the same because Spanish speakers combine the “del” and “fin” rather than stopping in between.

Recommendations on websites with audio exercises: BBC Spanish, Annenburg Learner

2. Listening to music

Music adds the great aspects of flavor and rhythm. When you listen to a song, there’s always something that sticks with you, and you keep repeating it over and over again. This repetition is an essential part of learning a language.  Listening to music will help you stay focused in order to grasp the lyrics. You may not be able to understand every word, depending on your level, but you will certainly improve your comprehension of the lyrics every time you listen to the song. Plus, you will acquire a lot of vocabulary along the way!

Music recommendations: Bajofondo, Diego el Cigala, Jorge Drexler, Buena Vista Social Club, Manu Chao, Lhasa de Sela, Chavela Vargas, Rita Indiana, Bebe, Julieta Venegas

Musicians.  Photo by Flickr user Dudley Carr.

Musicians. Photo by Flickr user Dudley Carr.

3. Watching movies

Movies and short videos will help you to not only  improve your listening skills, but also to interpret when you don’t understand something. The fun part about watching movies is that you can listen to people speaking in many different accents. You can watch movies from Spain, Argentina, Chile, and more, and become acquainted with the diversity of accents in the Spanish language. Many countries collaborate together in films, so you can find films that includes several different accents. In addition, watching movies is a great way to learn about Spanish culture!

Movie recommendations: El secreto de sus ojos, El laberinto del fauno, Diario de motocicletas, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, Machuca, La historia oficial, Frida

4. Joining a meetup group

There are various Meet-up groups that focus on language practice. Meetup is a site for meeting with people who share similar interests. Some groups just meet to speak Spanish, while others include Spanish food and events as well. Join a Spanish Meetup group so you  can actively practice your speaking and listening. If you practice listening often with audio exercises, movies, or music, meeting people should be a lot easier than trying to follow conversations out of the blue. Active listening is when you listen carefully and respond almost instantly to what is being asked. Remember to ask people to repeat things when you don’t understand something!

5. Traveling

There’s no better way to practice a language in all senses than when you are traveling. When you travel to a Spanish speaking country, you are naturally forced to interact in the target language. Being entirely immersed in the language uses all of your language skills at once and allows a complete connection with the language. Why not enjoy your next vacation in a foreign place where you can practice Spanish every second!

More Spanish tips coming soon!

What is your favorite Spanish song or film?




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