Advanced Listening/Reading to Beginning Level Speaking

I’ve been listening to Spanish content via LingQ and other places and have 550 hours listening, 29K known words and a theoretical level of Advanced 1. I have enough understanding of Spanish that I am able to watch certain types of TV (reality shows and telenovelas) and understand most of what I’m hearing. I understand almost 100% of intermediate level podcasts and language youtubers.

Yesterday, I decided to move forward and talked to a tutor on iTalki and I was like a deer in the headlights. Suddenly I couldn’t understand or answer simple questions. It was truly a train wreck of an experience. The tutor was patient and great but I was like a first day beginner all of a sudden. The experience made me question the way I’ve been learning - comprehensible input with some grammar study on the side - but I’m going forward and will continue to do what I do and try to get some words out of my mouth. The tutor basically said going forward we’d start at simple stuff and progress. OK, I can’t question the game plan based on my performance. I don’t understand how I can be about B2 in listening/reading but apparently A1 still in speaking?

Has anyone had any similar experiences? Does anyone have any stories about how they started talking or failed to start talking?

Thanks for any feedback.


They’re very different skills. If you don’t have practice speaking, breaking into your active vocabulary will be tough.

As an exercise, try to think through things in your head in English, then say the same thing in Spanish. Or think up a question in English (when did your family move from x to y, tell me about your family, what are your hobbies), and work through the answer in Spanish in your head. This will force you to take words you’ve been passively intaking to comprehend and turn them around for use.

Don’t be alarmed, it’ll work out!


It’s absolutely normal, don’t worry about it. You will see that the more you start speaking the easier will get to integrate more and more in your brain.
You are learning some new abilities but it will change. Probably after 10 simple hours of speaking you won’t recognize your first hour anymore. After 100 hours you will be a rockstar. :rofl:

You are doing a great progress with the amount of work you are doing, Keep up with it, don’t slow done. Soon you will have enough known words to be a lot more comfortable.



I’ve been there so many times, it’s hard to count. Like every time I go to Germany to visit my gf’s family =). It’s always rather hilarious, the first couple of times I went to visit them, I thought I knew so much. OMG…I didn’t know diddly. I still feel that way honestly, BUT every trip I do a bit better in both the understanding part and the speaking.

On the understanding part (since you mentioned you didn’t understand)…A couple of possibilities. One…you might be used to the accents of the content you consume the most. Or they may speak more “refined”. i.e. it’s going to be easier to understand a news anchor or a documentary narrator than someone off the street. Tutors or teachers should be on the “easier” side, but again you could run into an accent, even if slightly different than what you’re used to it may throw you off. Two…you may just be hearing words that you either haven’t used or heard much before, or it’s been a while since you’ve heard them. I’ve been going back to some easier and more everday vocabulary lately to reaccustom myself to this vocabulary, even though it is supposed to be “easy”.

For speaking…I feel there is some knock off effect from input. You will have acquired words that you can use actively, even though you may have never spoken them. HOWEVER, it might not be the ones you need for most typical interactions or you’re not used to creating full sentences and can only sputter out some “caveman” speak (if that!). The other’s suggestions are good. Any time you say something in your native language…try to think about how you might say it in your target language. Say/think it in any way you can, with the words you have. Then look it up in DeepL or ChatGPT. Write and/or “speak” a daily journal. Describe everything you did that day or the day before. Write and/or speak what you might be doing tomorrow. Try to describe anything you see around you–what is it, what does it look like, what does it feel like. These sort of things will build your everyday language that you use.

If you know you might talk about a certain topic with the tutor, then think about the things you might say or he/she might ask and look up vocabulary related to it. Then try to say/write some thing with the vocabulary. Do these things every day.

Now, if I could just make time to do more of this myself I’d be golden =)


@davidinla, yeah, I think I’m in the same boat.

There’s a big gap between my reading/listening and speaking, and it used to be lopsided the other way, but that was just because my reading/listening improved super-dramatically with LingQ, and speaking only got a little better.

I just noticed this effect in the last month or so. I would roll through so many pages reading, and I do it out loud to help with pronunciation. My own speaking started to sound good (to me, at least) such that I could kind of fool myself into thinking I would be able to speak at the same level I was reading at. It is a lot different to read a word on a page aloud than to dig up a suitable word, conjugate it correctly, etc.

I learned of this giant gap when I changed one thing in my learning habits… whenever the narrator/character asked a question in the content, I made a rule for myself that I would stop reading it and attempt to answer the question with my own words. If you read through the “Español with Juan” transcripts, for example, he’ll frequently end sentences with “no?” and I stop and say things like “Sí, estamos de acuerdo.” or if I’m feeling ambitious, I might try to say more in the context of what he is talking about.

And when I did this it felt like I went back two years in Spanish learning. Suddenly I’m the gringo tourist embarrassing myself. I can feel the impatience of an imaginary Juan Hernandez as I slowly hunt for words. “Quizas… uh… ella quiero- quiere el… uh… la cuenta…”

Anyhow, these things are surmountable. I wish us both luck.

I’m going to try my stop-to-answer-questions practice for a while and see how much it helps me. I figure whenever I have that terrible lost feeling, if I push through, I’m actually going to learn something.


As you can see, it’s a complete myth that you can speak well with input only. That said, on the back of a high level of listening comprehension, your first few hours of speaking will progress very fast. After 10 hours of speaking, you’ll jump up entire CEFR grades and be able to speak alright. By the time you reach around the 100 hours of speaking mark give or take, you’ll probably reach basic spoken fluency (i.e. speak confidently about a large range of topics).

With time and practice your paralysing fear (deer in the headlights) goes away. You can’t really expect to be perform well, when you are literally paralysed with fear.


Steve Kaufmann points out that speaking uses a skill that input doesn’t use: having an idea you want to express and forming a set of words (in the target language) that expresses it. Like any other skill, this skill must be practiced in order to become good at it. It’s like learning to ride a bike.

Steve prefers to delay talking while you build up a vocabulary (which input can do) and an understanding of sentence structure (which input can do). But he still knows that speaking requires a lot of practice speaking. Steve uses iTalki teachers for doing that practice.

Many people are afraid of public speaking. That fear is justified: speaking to a group is a different skill then conversing with one person. If someone attempts it without first learning that skill, they will do terrible. Speaking in Spanish is the same.

Personally, I am at B2 level in Spanish, for input. My speaking level is closer to A1. But I’ve done it enough that I’m not afraid: I know I’ll sound like an idiot.


Thank you all for the tips and feedback. Each post helped me! I’ve since had additional lessons and took the approach that it’s OK if I sound like an idiot and suddenly I was speaking with more ease. I still have a long way to go but I’m glad that I’m finally starting on the talking part of my learning.

There were a couple of “fear” comments. I’m having trouble reconciling that I had fear. I’m not a fearful person in general. I’ve taken on some big things in my life without fear. But I have had to admit that it was fear. Fear of sounding like a moron. I’ve never been afraid of getting in front of an audience and I’ve never been scared of sounding like an idiot in front of an audience - in English - so I’m not sure what I was going through with the Spanish fear. I wanted to admit that here sort of for my own personal therapy I suppose. Take from that what you want.

I find the community of language learners a very generous community and I’m glad to have joined you all. Again thank you for your thoughtful responses.


The thing about fear is quite interesting. I’m also not particularly fearful of sounding stupid, and if anything, I’m more likely to talk than the average person in group settings where one might fear of being judged.

But a second language is different for me. I think I’m more afraid of making whoever is listening to me bored, impatient, or uncomfortable in some way. I feel this way even when it is a paid tutor who is perfectly ready to help me and expects my language skills to be poor. Although, I think in the tutoring situation, my fear is more like “if I don’t respond with something in the next 5 seconds, the tutor is going to try to help me when I don’t want help.” My awkward struggling silence needs to be filled. Something like that.

I did maybe 20 or 30 sessions on Baselang a while back, and I didn’t get flustered at any point. It was more like every session was mildly stressful. There were many moments where I’d be thinking with 100% attention to find the right words. It’s a feeling like “the taxi is here. Where did I put my passport?”

I had this fantasy of spending full days just on tutoring since Baselang has a flat fee. But in practice, even starting in a strong mood, I’m exhausted after an hour, and 2 hours is an ordeal.

At some point I’ll return to tutoring, and it will be valuable, but it just stresses me a little bit. Enough to look for some more casual ways like talking to myself to get the speaking practice. I’m wary of adding exercises to my regime that give me fear because it’s already tough to keep doing language learning work every single day.


On the fear issue, I have social anxiety, so the fear level is high for me when it comes to speaking my second or third language. But once I get going, I’m fine as long as I get positive feedback (which I almost always do - after all, everyone likes foreigners to have taken the trouble to learn their language).

The one thing that puts me off is if a person I’m speaking to in their language suddenly switches to English. Nothing is more discouraging than that.


After living in Germany one thing that I have discovered. People have a very wrong idea about “quantity” of input and their actual level. At your current statistics, if you attend a formal exam, chances are that you may even achieve A2 in reading and listening as well. Formal language has a dense vocabulary and complex language. With 550 hours of listening if you move to your target country you will feel like you are lost in a jungle against native speakers. You need thousands of hours of listening to understand native speech in fast mode. Language learning is very intensive. Natives went to a school for 12 years and heard language every single day it does not happen overnight for them as well.

With time you will improve keep working hard. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.


Speaking is a completely separate skill. You need to practice speaking phrases (not just words) to get good at it. If you don’t practice saying phrases, you’ll be trying to string words together on the fly, and that’s just not how people speak.What you want to say will not come out on its own, no matter how much reading and listening you’ve done.

My advice: get a phrasebook, and practice a few of the most useful phrases until you know them by heart. After you get a few phrases under your belt, you can use them as a base for building new phrases.


:rofl: I have to say that I’m probably lucky on approaching this subject. For some reason, I don’t care. In fact, if I say something stupid, like every language learner sooner or later does, I laugh in the same way the natives do. They usually laugh, or try to hold that, and look at you smiling. In those circumstances I usually ask what’s wrong myself and I laugh with them as well. And I really laugh about wrong pronunciation, or completely wrong words, and so on. :rofl:

This is probably why I learn very fast by interaction with people. It’s my faster and preferred way to learn. And I don’t need all those hours of listening or studying that @asad100101 is saying. However, I never faced languages completely different from mine, and that’s another story. In this case he is probably right, it’s a lot of hard work.

One thing though, I have started to realise that by interacting with natives, we do listening as well. Because we listen to them speaking. In this case, I have done a lot of listening as well by living directly in my target countries, straight away, almost without having done anything prior. (a part for German!)

I understand this point too. It is quite common for many people as well. However, you need to understand that’s the way it is if you want to learn faster.
Instead of focusing on the topic that you are talking about, focus on the language. Don’t focus on difficult subjects, or things that you really care about and you want to explain your point of view. Just choose easier topics at the beginning, light conversations, and so on.
When we get caught with our emotions in a conversation, we lose sight of what we are doing. If you stay focus on the language, and easier conversations, it becomes a bit easier.
If you do tandem, you can do only 30’ each. Or even 20’ for you and 40’ for your partner.

For me, the better phrases to learn initially are something like:
can you repeat that?
repeat again please
say again please
what have you said?
what was the last word?
a little bit slower
how do you say that thing? (pointing with your finger)
I didn’t get that
what? :rofl:

All and other little phrases like that can really help you to make the conversation a bit more fluent.
I often say that by smiling or laughing :rofl:

When you talk, use the same words over and over, and integrate new ones on those that you already know.

The little word “thing”, for example, can be used everywhere by just pointing your finger at objects. Then, step by step, you build vocabulary.

Face-to-face conversations are a lot easier than telephone conversations.


That could be a valid technique as well. We tend to say always the same things, once we start saying the same phrases over and over, they become natural for us and we build from there.
I think knowing a bunch of these phrases can give a person more confidence. With more confidence it becomes easier to explore more complex territories.

This can happen, but you can keep answering in your target language without asking the person to switch back. In this scenario, you can in any case practice your output. Be consistent and they will shift back. Stand your ground! :rofl:

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Oh, I do. It doesn’t happen very often at all. In fact, I can only recall one time in 30 years.

Tell me about it! I went into my first few tutor sessions and had the same experience. It was horrible.

I’m sure it gets better with time. Some say to jump in from Day One. Others say it’s OK to be silent for a year or so.*

I do want to be conversational eventually. For now I’m content to set my goal at pleasure reading. I’m close.

I’ll get to conversation later.

*Though I do consider hearing and pronouncing language important from Day One. I do a lot of listen/repeat/shadow.

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The only reason I mentioned fear was your phrase about being like a ‘deer in the headlights’, which I thought you were meaning you freeze due to fear, anxiety, etc. Personally, I don’t really think I fear sounding like a moron, but rather I do get a bit anxious, when I feel that the other person is expecting a response from me and I take a long time to formulate and say it. This assumption of the other person is waiting, hurry up, adds pressure and stress, but really it’s just me adding pressure to myself, because often the person is patient (especially if you are paying them).

@asad100101 To be truly comfortable with native speakers, you need a lot, I agree. From my experience with Italian, the exams should be easier to pass than fulfilling the qualitative criteria of the CEFR levels. Personally I passed a comprehension B2 exam I found online with the following stats:

Sure, the exam wasn’t an official, formal exam, but with the OP’s stats of 550 hours of listening, etc., if you are experienced in taking exams and get a B2 exam, which doesn’t test grammar theory, I wouldn’t be surprised if you passed (edit: the comprehension sections). If you didn’t pass a A2 exam with these Spanish stats, I would be surprised and probably put it down to a silly exam, as A2 comprehension is quite low.

The OP is studying Spanish, but for German, the Goethe Institute says you only need a vocabulary of ~1,300 head words for A2.

Der dem Goethe-Zertifikat A2 zugrunde liegende Wortschatz umfasst circa 1300 lexikalische Einheiten, die Deutschlernende auf der Niveaustufe A2 kennen sollten.

To pass these lower CEFR levels, you don’t actually require a high level in the language. Even B1 and B2 are also not super high, both in terms of comprehension (B2 is decent, but not high) and competence.

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This is actually my exact fear…my stats are much lower than yours but i always tell myself ill start speaking once i ramp up my passive vocab. I know steve kaufmann always seems to have the advice of delaying speaking but now since I’ve never done any speaking im afraid to start…so i definitely vibe with your experience because im certain thats how it would go for me. Which in a way makes it seem more of a normal part of the language learning journey. Best of luck keep speaking!!!

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