Saturday Spanish #14: how news and TV shows can keep your Spanish stuck

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To practice my Spanish listening, I used to listen to the news constantly.

In the car, walking to class, cleaning — whenever I could.

The intention behind this was good. I was immersing myself in Spanish and trying to make it part of my everyday life.

But in retrospect, it was not as good a use of time as I thought it was.

Knowing what I’ve learned since then, I understand that what you listen to and how you listen to it are more important than simply blasting Spanish into your ears 24/7.

Short bursts of focused listening > Hours of background listening

If you rely only on playing Spanish in the background, your listening skills (and therefore your speaking skills) will stall.

You’ll feel like you’re making a real effort to learn. But when so little of it is active, and so much of it is too advanced for your current level, you don’t give your brain the opportunities it needs to make connections naturally.

But if you listen with full attention to content that’s close to your level, you reinforce known words and grammar structures while introducing yourself to new pieces of language in a gradual, natural way.

Let’s look at exactly what you can do to make the most of your Spanish listening efforts.

#1. Pick content that’s just above your level

Listening to the news or watching TV can be a fun activity, but if you’re only picking up 5-10% of it, it’s not the most effective from a learning perspective.

A few places to find listening practice at different levels:

#2. Give it your full attention

Understanding a new language is tough. And even in our native languages, comprehension goes way down when we multitask. 

So it should come as no surprise that multitasking hurts your ability to understand Spanish.

To avoid multitasking, here are some things you can try: 

  • Pick 5 minutes of any audio and sit down to listen to that alone with headphones on
  • Print out the transcript of what you’re listening to and follow along
  • Listen to a short piece of audio, then transcribe it as best you can.

#3. Re-listen

The best way to multitask and improve your Spanish is to listen to something you’ve already listened to actively.

If you’ve already given your full attention to a 10 minute podcast, you can listen to it again while driving or doing the dishes and get more out of it than if this were your first time listening.

I used to always listen to the news for practice because it was always available. And because I felt like I was making the most of in-between time.

And I definitely learned from it. But I could have gotten much more out of those in-between moments had I followed the steps above and listened to things closer to my level in a focused way. 

Give it a try and let me know what you think.


P.S. An indirect but important element to improving comprehension is working on your own pronunciation. By improving your understanding of the sounds of Spanish, you recognize them better when native speakers use them.

If you’ve tried and struggled to improve your pronunciation, join my Confident Spanish Pronunciation workshop. In under an hour you’ll build a strong foundation for great pronunciation and improve your comprehension along the way.

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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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