One of the hardest problems I have (aside from a weak vocabulary - which is easily fixable) is that when I am in a situation where I speak Spanish to someone I often have to have them slow down considerably in order to understand it. This sort of pulls me out of the immersive experience. I can often speak close to "native speed", but I can't listen anywhere near it. It gets especially complicated with regional dialects where letters are cut out or words are entirely omitted. I have the same problem watching the news. Here is an example of a clip that was very hard for me to understand initially. Not the words, but the speed at which he says them.

Currently I am using fluentu to try to "learn to listen" at a more native level. Is there anything else I can supplement to increase the speed at which I can listen to someone speak?

  • 1
    If you don't mind giving that info, are you a native English speaker? And where are you living now, and what chances are you getting to talk to native Spanish-speakers? This could help focusing the answers.
    – pablodf76
    Dec 20, 2017 at 21:13
  • @pablodf76 Yeah I am a native English speaker. I have a handful of people including my coach who regularly speaks with me in Spanish to expose me to it. However that's only 2-3 hours a week.
    – user18422
    Dec 20, 2017 at 21:15
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    You may find better answers in Language Learning
    – fedorqui
    Dec 20, 2017 at 23:54
  • Funny, I have the same problem when I try to speak with native English speakers. The best for me is watching movies or series in English with English subtitles, my hearing improved a lot since then, so I think you could do the same with movies and series in Spanish.
    – Charlie
    Dec 21, 2017 at 5:53
  • Me too! As a english speaker learning spanish, I find that I often understand better others that are native english speakers who are speaking spanish, probably because they are making more of an effort to pronounce things correctly. I'm sure its similar for native spanish speakers who are trying to listen to english - because we all have our own ways of speaking. As another has said, one thing Im trying to do more is listening to old movies on youtube and turn on the captions.
    – bitshift
    Nov 25, 2022 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


Learning a language, like with learning most of other things it is not only about knowing what words mean and being able to express your thoughts. It has to come automatically and without having to think about what every word might mean.

I have learned two languages and am learning a third one. The problem you describe has been common to all the languages I learnt. At some point I am able to understand most of the words I hear but I just can't figure out the meaning of the sentence fast enough, before the speaker is already expressing his/her next sentence.

It is all about practice. At some point you don't recognize at the word level, but at a somehow bigger pattern level. You recognize a whole sentence and you don't need to think about the single words. How you get this kind of practice depends on what works for you.

One way I found useful for me is to use the speed feature of YouTube. You can set the speed to 50% of the normal speed, the pitch of the voice remains unchanged. I try to get familiar with the speech at that speed and then increase the speed gradually until reaching normal speed.

  • Awesome, that gives me hope, as I have started doing this more as well. I like watching old westerns that were made in mexico and I turn on the close captions. I'm slowly picking up more of whats being said. However, it's what you said about understanding past the individual word level that caught my attention. I still often find myself trying to translate each word on the fly, especially when I try to speak, rather than just speaking directly in Spanish, which results in long pauses.
    – bitshift
    Nov 25, 2022 at 15:34

This is a partial answer to supplement what others have already contributed.

Please don't get discouraged. You are actually facing two different challenges with the particular clip you cited. The speaker explains that he is originally from Cuba. It is often said, "En Cuba se comen las eses." In other words, in Cuba, people often drop the S, just as in English, it is not unusual for someone with a Southern accent to drop the G in a word ending with -ing. (There are other regional variants that drop the S too.) This adds a special challenge, if you aren't regularly exposed to that style of pronunciation.

The fact that the closed captions for that clip are worse than useless doesn't help.

And that leads me to...

Good closed captions can be helpful.

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