Spanish Listening skills: Learn How to Survive in a Spanish Conversation


Listening is the first important skill to develop if you want to learn conversational Spanish.

After listening comes certainly speaking but in order to speak, you have to listen first and then imitate.

You start with listening on the very first learning day, and keep on listening all your life.

Spanish Listening Tips for beginners

 Spanish Listening Tips for intermediate and advanced

Spanish Listening Tips for beginners

I don’t recommend dealing with anything else apart from your Spanish language course, at least during the first couple of weeks of your training. With one exception – you can start listening to radio and watching TV immediately after your first lesson.

So, your Spanish learning program is full of audio – otherwise it’s pointless to choose it.

After the start, your talking skills are rather poor. To develop them fast, you’ve got to listen. Listen, and then listen, and listen again.

Listen to your lesson. Listen to it once again. In a couple of hours, when you have already had your lesson time for today, listen to your lesson once again.
Listen to your previous lesson before you start with the next lesson tomorrow. Listen to it many times, and get your ears trained to Spanish speech.

Listen to radio programs in Spanish. Don’t worry at all if you don’t understand most of what you hear.

Set yourself a target to discover the words you already know. If you feel uncertain about the pronunciation of a word or phrase, check it again. If you feel uncertain about the whole amount of words you’ve written down so far, then you should make more regular reviews of your vocabulary.

As you noticed, I said “radio”, not “TV”.

When you both listen and watch, you are in more favorable position than when you listen only. Images always help you to better understand the context. But if you are a beginner, you have to train your ears first. You have to get used to your target language speech.

For this reason I strongly recommend to all beginners in a foreign language – at least during the first 1-2 weeks – just to listen and avoid any watching.

Only when you are in clear about the pronunciation of your first hundred words, it’s easy to make an upgrade from sound training to sound+video training.

Start with thematic emissions – news, documentaries, talks in the studio, interviews – where it is spoken in natural speed. It’s a good idea to watch children programs and movies, as long as you don’t overdose.
Listening and watching thematic emission always help you develop various “topic nests”. Each one of these topic nests includes a set of words you have to expect to hear every time you come across a discussion on this topic. 

Avoid watching:

  • Movies - a rather small number of words might be useful for you at this still initial stage. What is more, there is a lot of slang (I do not recommend slang for beginners!) in and you might not understand what the characters are saying, because they speak either rather fast or unclearly.
  • Talk shows – again there is a lot of slang and people talk often very fast and unclear (usually because they are under some kind of emotion)
  • Documentaries that are too technical or highly specialized, that is full of terms you are not likely to learn soon.

In my opinion subtitles won’t help you much in listening. You cannot follow both the speech and the subtitles – merely you don’t have enough time. You choose either to listen or to read – what you feel you’re better in.

Spanish Listening Tips for  for intermediate and advanced

The 3 vital listening principles:

Here are my three principles of listening, which I am sure will help you as well:

  • Try to predict what the speaker is going to say. This might sound impossible at first view, but actually is a routine occupation.

That’s the point of building the “topic nests” I mentioned above.
When you get to know the subject of a conversation (and this happens usually during the first 10-20 seconds), you already know which words you could expect to hear.
How you manage this? With more and more listening to thematic talks.

  •  After locating the corresponding “topic nest”, try to sense the words with main stress – they carry the important information in the discussion and will help you get an instant orientation.


  •  You don’t have to understand every single word you hear – unless, of course, you are listening to a list of instructions to follow.
    Once you know the subject and the important information, you don’t need all the details revealed at once. More details will come with the next sentence carrying its own important information…and so on, the spiral is set.

Oh, what you should actually mind is that while talking, most of people say greater percentage of useless words than in writing! What is more, you can often hear the same idea at least twice within a couple of sentences.

So, please, don’t worry and don’t think that every single word you hear is like a priceless gift for your intelligence :-)

I know this does not sound very politely but that’s reality.

When people talk, they express their emotions.

But their face, their stature, their gestures show their emotional status as well. And they are eloquent more than enough.

If some words and phrases are another evidence for how people feel, why not skip them if they don’t bring you any useful information?

What to do if you don’t understand the person speaking to you?

Of course, your first reaction would be to ask him to speak slowly.

But what if he/she uses unknown words?

Then try to split his speech by asking questions about what you have been able to get.

By doing this, you show your interest to the conversation, and then you take the easier way – focus on what you understand.

Be sure however to do it politely, don’t interrupt rudely and aggressively. Wait for the speaker to finish his phrase, and just then ask.

By the way, do you know what the great philosopher Voltaire said ages ago?
“Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers”