This is an English translation of this video's transcript. Click here to read the original Spanish transcript.
If you are learning Spanish, you may think that the most important thing is to speak. "Fluent in 3 months", "Speak from day one". Almost all Spanish videos are about speaking Spanish. Everyone is obsessed with the holy grail of "speaking fluently".
But this is a big mistake. Some Spanish learners can talk non-stop for several minutes. But when I tell them something basic in Spanish, they can't understand it. Many students delude themselves into believing that they understand "everything" and that they just need to speak more fluently. But I give them a transcription exercise, and it is clear that they don't understand everything. The problem is that they don't practice listening.
Listening fast is much more important than talking fast. It doesn't matter if you don't speak fast. When you speak, it's clarity that matters, not speed. But when you listen, speed does matter. You need to be able to process the flow of sounds very fast. There is a joke that says: Some languages are written without spaces, like Chinese. Other languages are spoken without spaces, like Spanish. This is very true.
When we speak Spanish, words connect. And when words connect, sounds can change. For example, I recently posted a video about the phonetics of the Spanish sound [ð]. In this video I showed that several words change pronunciation depending on the context. This is just a small example. The whole Spanish sound system follows very different rules than English. In English the sounds also change, but in a very different way than in Spanish. But let's get back to the topic.
Why is listening quickly much more important than talking quickly?
Imagine this scene. A foreign tourist is in your country. This tourist has memorized several phrases and can pronounce them quickly and with an acceptable accent. For example, "Where is the bathroom?" But when you answer him, he doesn't understand. He says to you, "Can you repeat that?" And you repeat the instructions. And he again says, "One more time?" And this scene is repeated 3 times. Finally, you get tired and decide to accompany him to the bathroom.
Now imagine this other scene. A foreign tourist approaches you. He speaks slowly, but clearly. "Excuse me. where is the bathroom?" when you answer him, he understands and walks away. which of the two tourists do you prefer to interact with? I think the answer is obvious.
Well, let me tell you a secret. The first tourist, the one who focused on learning to speak, is not fictitious. It is the reality of many people. And it is the reality of some "polyglots" who "amaze" the natives with their speaking skills. Especially Chinese. If you know how to say a single sentence in Chinese the Chinese will shower you with compliments. But let's get back to the topic.
What's the point of being able to ask a question if you can't understand the answer? Do you think a waiter is going to have the patience to repeat the same sentence 3 times? He's not your Spanish tutor. You're not on Italki or Forvo Academy. You're in a crowded restaurant. And he has other tables to wait on. So if he knows only a little bit of English, he will prefer to talk to you in English. The same goes for most Spanish speakers you encounter in your daily life. Listening to a foreigner who speaks slowly, but with a good accent, is no problem. After all, not all Hispanics speak fast. But only the most patient people will be willing to repeat the same sentence several times until you understand.
So why are you obsessed with speaking faster? Do you need to share all your wisdom with Spanish speakers? Wouldn't it be much wiser to listen to them?
So, how can you improve your Spanish listening skills?
Let's talk about three things that will help you:
1. Learn a little phonetics and phonology.
2. Know the most common words well
3. Do intensive listening exercises
Let's talk briefly about each point and we will expand on them in other videos.
First, phonetics and phonology.
Phonetics is the study of speech sounds. For example, how we produce the sound [ɾ] of "but" in Spanish and "lady" in English. In what way the tongue hits which point, how long this sound lasts, etc. There are many Spanish sounds that do not exist in English. And when you hear them, they confuse you. Your mind doesn't know how to process them. That's why it's important to study the sounds of Spanish. So phonetics is studying what happens in the mouth and in the waves in the air. Phonology is studying what happens in the mind when we produce these sounds.
For example, let's go back to the sound [ɾ].
In the mind of a Spanish speaker, this is an R. The phoneme /ɾ/, to be more precise.
But in the mind of an English speaker, this is a D. The English phoneme /d/, to be more precise.
It is the same sound, but the two languages process it mentally in completely different ways. This causes pronunciation problems and comprehension problems. That is phonology. It's studying what's going on in the mind when you produce sounds. And how these sounds vary.
If you are interested in phonetics and phonology, become a member of this channel. There are several phonetics and phonics lessons available for channel members. Membership is only $4.99, and more lessons will be available each month. Visit youtube.com/spanishinput/join from Safari or Chrome to become a member.
Let's move on to the second point.
Know the most common words well.
There are students who can speak Spanish, but don't know the difference between "he" and "he," or between "sé" and "se". They have not taken the time to learn the most common words well. And this leads to comprehension problems. Not just listening comprehension, but even reading comprehension.
When we talk about common words, we also talk about groups of words. For example, "lo que" is the most common word group in Spanish. It is much more common than "mama" or "dada". But some students can't understand it well. In another video we will talk more
of these word groups or n-grams.
The most common Spanish words are usually function words. That is, words that do not have meaning by themselves, but in context. For example, articles, prepositions, etc. That's why they are often difficult to learn. But they are super important. They're like "The Force" from Star Wars. They are what holds the galaxy together. And sometimes one of these little words
can change the meaning of a sentence. That's why you should start paying attention to these words when you read them and when you hear them.
On spanishinput.com/words you can find a list of the 5000 most common words
of spoken Spanish.
And at spanishinput.com/keyboard you will find free software to write accents on any computer. Accents or tildes are important to distinguish these small words. If you get used to distinguish them when you write, you will learn to distinguish them.
when you read subtitles. And when you listen.
Let's move on to the third point.
Do intensive listening exercises.
We often fool ourselves into believing that we "understand everything", but this is not the case. When you listen to Spanish normally, you only pay attention to the main points. Your mind is discarding everything it doesn't understand. It classifies it as "unimportant" and convinces itself that it already has enough. This creates the illusion that you "get it all". An effective way to break this illusion is to do transcription exercises.
Transcription simply means writing down what you hear. It has nothing to do with translation. To make a transcription, choose a video or audio recording that you are going to transcribe. This video or audio should be challenging for you, but not too challenging. You can start with dialogues from a Spanish course. And then you can try more advanced material. It is very important that this video or audio has accurate Spanish subtitles or an accurate transcription of the audio.
If you are looking for videos, the best option is this channel, SpanishInput. Almost all videos from SpanishInput channel have exact subtitles in Spanish. They are not automatic subtitles, like other channels. SpanishInput's Spanish subtitles have been created manually, with Spanish learners in mind.
After choosing a video or audio, take paper and pencil or create a new document on your PC. Now watch the video or listen to the audio without seeing the subtitles or text. Turn off the subtitles or close the text. Now start writing down what you hear. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Without omitting a single word. It doesn't matter if they are small words like "se", "lo", "te" or "me". You have to include every little word. This forces you to concentrate completely on what you hear. You begin to pay more attention to the sounds. You realize that the actual pronunciation is not as you thought it was.
You will have to listen to each sentence three, four, five, even a hundred times in order to understand it and write it down. It doesn't matter if you have to repeat it a hundred times. A video has infinite patience. Do this exercise for half an hour. You will realize that it is not as easy as it seems.
Then, compare your transcript with the original subtitles. Highlight all your mistakes with a different color. Study your mistakes carefully. Did you omit any words? Did you mishear any words? Are there new words you can learn? This exercise will reveal gaps in your vocabulary, your knowledge of phonetics, grammar, etc. It's a great way to identify problems.
Now, there is software that can help you do this exercise more efficiently. For example, Language Reactor and GlotDojo can help you pause and repeat subtitles on YouTube and Netflix. WorkAudioBook can help you split an mp3 file by phrases and repeat each phrase. But the general idea is the same. Listen intensively, write and then compare with the original. If you write in Google Docs you can check your mistakes with your Spanish tutor. It is best if he or she knows phonetics.
Speaking of phonetics, here is a free phonetics lesson from the SpanishInput course:
You'll find more lessons like this one in this playlist, available to members of this channel:
Join the channel as a member today.
In future videos we will talk more about phonetics, word groups and transcription exercises. I'm Miguel and this is SpanishInput.