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Strategies to keep up with spoken Spanish.

Currently, I am around the A2 level of Spanish. I can have slow basic conversations. For most verbs, I need a little time to think of the correct tense and conjugation (e.g. "I need to use the imperfect of aprender here"). As well, arranging the words in the right order takes a split second. For example to say, "she wrote me the letter three years ago". I would need about a second to realize I need the preterit of escribir, its conjugation, and to order the words. Similarly, when listening, I would need a second to recognize the preterit of escribir and "unscramble" the words so they make sense. Currently, I am watching spanish videos with spanish subtitles. Here, I don't get the second I need between every sentence and I can't keep up. I do not want to watch videos slower than about 70% normal speaking speed because the rhythm becomes unnatural. In spoken language, pauses often don't come between words. For example: We don't say "Tim. . . is. . . a. . . friend". We say "Ti. . . mi. . . sa. . . friend" really fast. So, I don't want to watch lots of beginner videos with long pauses between words: "Eduardo. . . esta. . . .leyendo. . . . el. . . libro." 

When watching videos my mind tries to use pauses to identify words - which is tripping me up. So, I am using Spanish subtitles to link spoken words to written words. Yet, I still can't keep up with about 75% normal speaking speed. I am the type of person that will pause the video each sentence to figure out the meaning and look up every word I don't know. This takes forever and it is not enjoyable at all. I need at least one part of my language studies to be somewhat enjoyable. If it is all tedious/frustrating work, I won't continue. I know me. People tell me to just keep watching and practicing and I will improve. Sure, and I can also move a big mound of dirt with a teaspoon.

For some of the videos I watch, I just want to understand the "gist" of the video. I want to understand the basics -  just enough that I am learning a bit and enjoying a bit. I would then be willing to watch A LOT more videos. A few things that I am trying:

1. I translate way too much in my head and it slows me waaaay down. So, I am learning new vocabulary with images. For example, the word "escribir" conjures an image, or sense, in my head. This is much faster than thinking "to write". 

2. For most verb conjugations, the verb prefix is constant or very similar. To keep up with the speaker, I am allowing myself to just recognize the prefix. For example, I hear and see in the subtitle "aprend---" which brings to mind "learning" - some type of learning. "Ten---" or "Tuv---" has something to do with "having". 

3. Next, I want to intuitively recognize if the speaker is talking past, present or future. Words like "pasado", "ayer" and "proximo" are great anchors. Other clues are words like "va a. . . " or a full verb with an extra letter (aprendere). I quickly know they are talking about future. As well, I want the sound/site of "-iendo/-iando" to quickly conjure up "-ing". 

4. The past is by far the hardest because my mind wants to identify the tenses. Yet to understand the "gist" of it, recognizing that the verb is happening in the past seems MUCH more important than identifying the specific tense. For example: "My Mom sang to me some nights", "My mom sang to me one night" and "My mom had sung to me some nights" are three different tenses. If I have to pause to identify the tense of cantar being used, I'm screwed. I just fell behind the speaker. Yet to get the "gist of it" all I really need to know is that the speaker's mom sang to her at night. So, recognize "cant---" is sing and that the ending *looks* like a past tense (for example an "-ado" ending).

 I will still do grammar practice. Yet for some videos that I want to play continuously, I will allow myself to just know that the action took place in the past.

For those of you that have made it to the intermediate stage and beyond, does this sound reasonable? 

Sep 26, 2016 7:59 PM
Comments · 9

Hola, Roger

Estudias español, ¿verdad? Pues te escribo en español. Si hay algo que no entiendas, dímelo e intentaré traducirlo al inglés.

Mi modo de trabajar la escucha es similar al tuyo, pero con algunas diferencias: en lugar de "parar y estudiar" utilizo la técnica de "vencer al enemigo por cansancio":

Ahora mismo estoy trabajando con la película "Carnage". La elegí porque tiene mucho diálogo. La he conseguido en versión original, y he buscado los subtítulos en inglés y español. Voy trabajando con ella en trozos de unos cinco minutos (en realidad, lo hago por escenas con sentido completo).

1.- Veo un trozo con subtítulos en español, para comprender todo lo que se dice, e intentando adivinar, a partir de lo que leo, cuál puede ser la frase que están diciendo en inglés.

2.- Vuelvo a ver la escena con subtítulos en inglés. Normalmente, identifico lo que leo con lo que oigo, aunque no siempre. A veces, necesito hacerlo una segunda vez. 

3.- Finalmente, desactivo los subtítulos e intento entender todo. Si no lo consigo, vuelvo al punto dos y vuelvo a verla con subtítulos. Así una y otra vez, hasta que soy capaz de entender todo el diálogo sin necesidad de apoyarme en el texto.

También tengo una aplicación de la BBC llamada "English Listening", en la que hay diálogos de diversos tipos y distinto nivel, de unos 6 minutos de duración. Muchos de ellos incluyen la función "karaoke", que hace que se ilumine el texto transcrito mientras los actores van hablando. Normalmente hago una primera escucha leyendo el texto. Y después, lo escucho una y otra vez hasta que consigo entenderlo todo sin mirar. La ventaja es que puedo hacerlo mientras camino o hago otras tareas. Te recomiendo una aplicación para smartphone que se llama "PodClub" (o su web), que tiene podcast en diversos idiomas, y concretamente una serie de ellos en español, para nivel A2/B1, también con karaoke.

September 27, 2016

Hello, I felt just like you, when I started to learn English, I watched videos with subtitles or I readed books in english, but I felt so frustated that I just wanted to throw away the book and give up, actually I left to study English for five years, but don't give up easily (like I did before jajaja), I think you can learn, you've just started, you will find it difficult, but it's not impossible. 

I don't know if it will works with you, but I tried with music, when I returned with the English again, I began listening music in English. I guess it helps me a lot. 

Just think that the learning is slow, but one day you will know enough to understand, listening, writing and speaking the Spanish. 

Just take your time. But keep going :) 

(As you can read my English is very bad, but I will keep going learning, if you decide to try with music as a strategies I can recommend you some songs that could help you).

September 26, 2016

Hello Roger, 

I'm glad to see that you're receiving so many comments!  You'll have a lot to ponder!  I'm in the beginning stages of Advanced Spanish.  I spent three months living in Quito, Ecuador with a host family and have just arrived in Granada, Spain for a 9 month exchange program.  However, some people are not as lucky as I and don't have these opportunities.  

I will tell you however that when I first started out, I did almost NOTHING except go to my lessons.  I had a one hour lesson once a week.  People tell me that I'm smart for being able to learn the language with so little practice, but I don't think this is true.  When we first start out it's good to go slow the first year.  If you need it right away for business, travels, etc then this might not be the approach for you, but for me it worked quite well.  So here's how things things worked out for me.

Second year - college classes: one hour class Monday through Friday with an instructor who spoke ONLY Spanish.  Regular tests which included grammar and vocab.  

Third year - continued with college classes, study abroad program.  

I never really did more than these classes required.  For me the lessons and classes were my accountability.  There are cheaper ways to be involved, most colleges offer noncredit classes that you can take.  

So all in all, I would say slow down.  You don't have to understand everything.  When I was at your level I would listen to Spanish music, but I wouldn't even attempt to understand what they were saying, I was just getting used to the way Spanish sounds.  All this may seem ludicrous, but it helped.  I would suggest making yourself accountable by using something tangible. Schedule a lesson with someone where you have to do something very specific in Spanish, give directions, order food, explain a music video, etc... 

September 27, 2016

I had the same issue when I was learning Spanish. I would watch something and everything was okay with words I understood, but as soon as I came across a word I didn't understand, my brain would stop and try to translate it. As a result, I'd miss the rest of the dialog and be completely lost. This was particularly challenging when having a conversation with a native speaker. 

My best advice is to stop trying to translate and understand every word. Rather, keep listening and try to understand the big picture. As your Spanish improves, you will understand more and eventually begin to grasp the finer details. 

When learning a language, we underestimate the importance of context. That is, we can often use context to understand a new word. We do it with our own native language but often don't realize it. 

Watching movies are a bit challenging at your level. What some people do is to watch it with native subtitles (English) the first time to understand what's going on, and then watch the movie again with Spanish subtitles.  

I hope this helps!

September 27, 2016

Good point Antonio. 

The best way for me to learn would be to live in a spanish-speaking country where I *have to* learn the language to survive.

Yet, I can't do that now. I need a balance between "relaxed" and "intense". If I am too relaxed, I will not keep it up. I have quit in the past because I was too relaxed and easy-going. I need some pressure and accountability to keep me engaged and moving forward. But, too much intensity is not good either.

September 26, 2016
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