Becoming Frustrated with Spoken Spanish...any advice?

Becoming Frustrated with Spoken Spanish...any advice?


Recently, while talking with a native Spanish speaker, 'phone calls' came up. She said when she's making a call, she often uses "and this is what I thought I heard her say" cincuenta.

I was thinking~~Hmmm...cincuenta....cincuenta ohh
So, I asked her, "Cincuenta?"
She said, Sí.

I said, 50? Really?
She smiled and said no, "se encuentra"...."se encuentra a María" (as in, Is Maria there? or Can you find Maria?).

And therein lies my problem. confused

I can read and write in Spanish fairly well, but I can only understand spoken Spanish, when it's spoken at a snail's crawl. When I know in advance what the topic will be, I get through it 'okay', but off-the-cuff, it's like listening to one long song....and I'm missing the rhythm of the beat. red face Just when I think I 'got it', I end up focusing on grammar and moods mid-sentence....then here come the pauses.

My Spanish speaking friends absolutely Hate it when I want to practice. They don't mind swapping e-mails en español, but they Run for the Hills when I want to converse en español. shock By the time I finish 'dissecting' their sentence and they "wait" for my response, neither of us remembers what the heck we were talking about. Ayyyy!

I'm not one to give up, but I'm becoming frustrated. mad I've had it up to Here with all the 'book knowledge' without being able to enjoy a smooth conversation. At this point, I'd be better off carrying a notepad and asking them to write down what they're saying to me. rolleyes

At what point does it all come together? Do you guys have Any advice that will stop me from dumping all these 'textbooks' in the recycle bin?

Thank you in advance! grin

updated ENE 24, 2010
edited by Dee914
posted by Dee914

10 Answers


Check out the following post *** Transcription of the week (all levels) 2010 / Jan 18 *** by Carlos-F - I still have trouble understanding Spanish sometimes when it's not being spoken by a Mexican and though I've only tried transcribing one of these so far I found it really helpful because you can then go check your answer with the other answers and see if you heard it correctly.

Also, since I first started learning Spanish I've listened to the music. Try listening to songs and pause them and write down what you think you heard. Then check the lyrics and see what you heard correctly. You can find lyrics online easily for most songs if you don't have a cd insert. Just type a song name and "letras" in a search engine. Start with slow songs...something simple like José José.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by alba3
Thanks, Alba! I hadn't thought about 'writing down' his transcripts then checking with the posts. I've listened to them & they're very good, but his voice is so calming, I end up pouring a glass of wine instead of listening to what he's saying! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
But, don't tell that to Carlos! (jajaja) Honestly, tho, I love music, so I may just try a CD or the songs on line w/lyrics! Thx again! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010

I went through the same frustration. I looked around for months and finally ran across spanishpod.com. The newbie lessons are free, but they have five levels of difficulty.

Listen to the dialog and try to write it down as you listen -- they repeat it several times. The dialogs are very short, only four lines. And you can check out where you have gone wrong.

I have been doing this for only a month and my listening comprehension has really increased. The dialog is in normal speed and some words run together, so you learn how to hear word groups or patterns rather than separate individual words.

Best of luck.

updated ENE 22, 2010
edited by cdowis
posted by cdowis
Thanks, cdowis, for sharing your encouraging experience! I'm intimidated by 'listening' w/o my visuals, but I might be able to handle only 4 lines~~especially w/repeats at normal speed! I'll give the site you listed a try!!! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
Excelent advice!!!!!!! - Benz, ENE 22, 2010

Practice listening to Spanish on TV.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by lorenzo9
Thanks Lorenzo. I do well with the 'elementary-type' & cartoon programs, but if it's any other program, I catch only every 3rd or 4th word (unless I'm reading the Caption). :-( - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
Can you understand the news? - lorenzo9, ENE 22, 2010
Actually, I do pretty well with the news. How strange, now that I think about it. Maybe because they speak more distinctly. I understand some of the interviews, too. Mmm...keep talking. This is working. I hope you don't charge by the hour! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
Yes they do talk more distinctly, so I try to watch an hour or two of news per day. I also try to watch movies, soap operas, and court TV shows to get some exposure to more realistic Spanish. I started out watching cooking shows and Vida Salvaje. - lorenzo9, ENE 22, 2010
Vida Salvaje is great! And the cooking & hm improvement shows, too. :-) When I can, I catch Family Feud. But, if nothing else..I am definitely committing (right here, right now) to watching more news! Thanks so much for your help! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010

These are my favourite resources:

Español Podcast

Cody's Cuentos

There are transcriptions and downloadable podcasts - for free. I usually listen to one podcast two or three times, then I consult the transcription and note some useful words and phrases.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by Issabela
Thanks, Issabela! I saw the Cody one on an earlier thread (someone asked about tales/storybooks)...got it in my Faves! I just added the Español one, too. Thanks so much for providing the Links & for your suggestions! I'll try them both, for sure!! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
Buena suerte :) - Issabela, ENE 22, 2010

In the midst of learning language and having a goal, don't forget to enjoy. Go to a country for 2 weeks, not with a tour.

Listen to Spanish soap operas. The overactiing is awesome.

Focus on parts of speech. Se encuentra and cincuenta, one is a verb, one is a noun. They would never be used in the same place when spoken.

I have state interpreting certifications and still get frustrated as I am not native. You need to learn without putting 2 much pressure on yourself. It takes years, 15 for me and a degree from UW. Still it's hard sometimes. Think of what is being discussed.

DEFINATELY TAKE A PHONETICS OR LINGUISTICS class. Certain sounds are pronounced a certain way in certain environments. Voy a aprender espaol for examply, is just voyaprender español. You need to take a linguistics class. Audit a 300 level Spanish linguistics classñ

updated ENE 24, 2010
posted by pilipina
Thanks, Dana! I do need to focus on the parts of speech/context~~and stop 'guessing' :-( I catch the soaps when I can (never a dry eye) though I could be more consistent. Hmmm...linguistics class! I'll look into that. Thanks for the recommendation! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
You are welcome. In linguistics you will gain a new realization of sounds that get swallowed or blended in certain environments. This is generally the hardes part of understanding spoken Spanish, at least for me. - pilipina, ENE 24, 2010
See, in English, the word "hardest" has a "t" on the end. But say the sentence I just wrote outloud. You see... the "t" does not get prounounced in English. Same thing happens in all languages - pilipina, ENE 24, 2010
Yes,Yes,Yes! That's Exactly what I'm talking about! Understanding the 'rhythm' & blend of the words/sounds Vs. the monotone one-word-at-a-time (great for reading/writing~but not for verbal comprehension). This may be just what I need! Thx so much! :-) - Dee914, ENE 24, 2010

Thanks for asking this question Dee, it has generated some very helpful suggestions,which I am going to try! I sometimes listen to Spanish radio on line, as that doesn't have the visual clues. ¡Buena suerte!

updated ENE 22, 2010
edited by pintor
posted by pintor
Thanks, Pintor! I'm Really looking forward to understanding it w/o my visual clues ;-) Strange that I'm better w/a news anchor than I am w/people right in front of me--when that's as visual as it gets! Like you, I'm going to try their advice, too! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010

Dee, I felt frustration like yours when attending the language club dinners we have once a month. A friendly informal setting but I am a beginner without the listening skills. I thought of not going anymore and felt awkward since I was only listening and not contributing but realized that I needed to stick with it. It became a question of how important learning the language was to me. I accept that I am going to crash sometimes. My favorite line: "Yo estoy aqui a escuche y aprender" Note: a little red wine helps at dinner.

Read and listen once everyday no matter how little even if it's the word of the day. Buena suerte!


updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by joche
Thx for sharing this, joche! I've been thinking about re-joining a local Spanish Meet-up Grp that I visited twice, prior to a recent family tragedy. SpanishDict is my 1st attempt to get 'back into the fold' since that situation occurred. Haven't - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
been thinking too clearly. :-( But, thank you So much for posting this. I'm going to find out the next mtg date and let you know how it goes! And thx for the red wine heads-up~~can't hurt!! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
And where are my manners? Welcome to the Forum, joche! :-) I'm honored to be your first thread posting! ;-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010


No te sientas desilusionada. Sigue todos los consejos anteriores. Mi consejo sería tratar de rodearte de gente que habla español. Si tus amigos que hablan español odian hablártelo, pídeles que no sean así y que te ayuden, como amigos, por lo menos algunas veces. Otra cosa sería pedirle a la gente que hable un poco más lentamente. Muchas veces la gente no tiene presente que tú aún estás aprendiendo español. No saben lo rápido que están hablando.

No te desanimes.


Don't feel disappointed. Follow all the previous advice. My advice would be to try to surround yourself with Spanish speaking people. If your Spanish speaking friends hate to speak it to you, ask them not to be that way and to help you, as friends, at least some times. Another thing would be to ask people to speak slower. Many times people don't keep in mind that you are still learning Spanish. They don't know how fast they are talking.

Don't be discouraged.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by LuisaGomezBartle
Thank You, Luisa! The girls are great. They just give me a hard time because I'm usually trying to "correct" them. :-) I can't help it. ¡Una mesa no es un escritorio! So, it's my fault. :-( They try, tho I think I'm better off w/the strangers! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
I do need to mingle w/other native Spanish speakers more often (w/o the 'corrections', of course!). I find that most people appreciate me trying & are kind enough to 'wait it out' :-) Thank you for your encouragement!!! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
P.S. Thanks, too, for posting in both languages~~I can Never have too much practice! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010

I feel the same. Understanding spoken Spanish is very difficult. I have no suggestions for overcoming this except asking you to be stubborn. Keep at it. It must come in the end. The podcasts that have been recommended by others will also surely help.

If you want to chat, with microphones on, to practice I would be willing. Just let me know.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by hcjc
WOW!! I never thought about chatting with someone using a microphone! My sons would be so proud (I still text one letter at a time & spell out each word)! :-) Thanks for the invite & encouragement, Juardo, I'll be sure to take you up on that! - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
I will look forward to it. - hcjc, ENE 22, 2010

I listen to a podcast called "News in Slow Spanish." It was difficult at first, but the more I listen the more I hear.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by idahorsegirl
"News In Slow Spanish"...I like the sound of that~~a combination of what I like & what I need. :-) I'll be sure to look for the Podcast! Thanks, oceanix, for your input!!! :-) - Dee914, ENE 22, 2010
SpanishDict is the world's most popular Spanish-English dictionary, translation, and learning website.