Celebrating 1,000 hours of Spanish Listening!

Well I’ve done it. Over two and a half years I have totted up 1,000 hours of Spanish listening on LingQ. 1,000 was always in my head as a milestone I wanted to reach, so I’m just reflecting on what it means to finally get there.

First the caveat: It almost certainly isn’t 1,000 hours. It is probably more. It is a huge guestimate based on adding up podcasts, films, TV and conversations. It also doesn’t include the less intense listening I did prior to joining LingQ in 2012. I am happy with it being a guestimate because listening hours is very difficult to measure anyway. Attention, interest, speed and sound quality all vary greatly, and any two hours are difficult to compare.

Second, the bad news: After all this hard work I still have moments of incomprehension. I struggle a lot when I am tired, stressed or nervous, or when I am talking to someone with a thick accent, or who uses lots of slang, or talks too fast. Every additional person in a conversation exponentially affects my ability to follow what is going on. And when - as happens a lot these days - people start mixing Spanish with the indigenous language Kichwa, I am SO LOST.

But I tell myself, nearly all of this is true in English too. Especially being tired or talking to someone with a strong accent. I wouldn’t judge my level of English based on trying to talk to a Glaswegian whilst drunk or tired, so it would be silly to do the same in Spanish.

Finally, the good news: 90% of the time I understand and I’m understood and maybe 60% of the time I don’t have to think about it much. If I am trying to concentrate I find nearby Spanish conversations distracting because my ears start listening (something that didn’t happen a year ago because it was just ‘noise’). I dream in Spanish and I have a whole bunch of words that I can’t translate back into English because I learnt them in a Spanish context (trámite, anyone?).

1,000 hours is quite arbitrary but I do feel the effect of massive listening input has been huge. It has been the most time consuming of activities but also very enjoyable and rewarding. My weakest areas now are where I need to activate a lot of passive knowledge and get better at speaking under pressure. But I’m sure these things will come with time.

Since I’m in Ecuador until the end of the year it makes sense to keep pushing on. But part of me is now itching to start a new language? Not sure which yet, but something to look forward to in 2016.



Congratulation. To reach a target like that is a major milestone. 1k hours in 2.5 years sounds like a good target. To understand 90 % is fantastic. Congratulaciones!

It is nice to know that others are thinking and doing something about listening. I passed the whole day thinking that I need to push harder on listening my target language. To read does not seem sufficient for me.

Maybe I should set a similar target… By the way, “trámite” is a legal term used by uneducated people. They tend to drop the “s” of “tránsmite”. It is a legal term that implies facilitating things along. For example, “Hoy voy a hacer los trámites para mi visa.” It means “Today I will do the transactions needed for my visa.” How do I know this? Because I am Dominican and we love dropping “s” all over the place. I guess to drive the tourist insane.

I would be glad if you tell me how did you do the 1K hours of listening in 2.5 years. It implies a little more than 2 hours-day. Did you repeat the material or just keep going. Thanks.

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Hey thanks for the reply. I’m not sure I’d totally agree with you about “trámite”, it seems to be used universally in Ecuador and doesn’t seem to be a matter of education. This might not be the case in other countries. But I suppose my main point is that trámites are something that exist in a whole different form to in the UK. We just don’t have bureaucracy on such a mind-numbing level in the UK, life here in Ecuador is like a Kafka novel, everyone everywhere is on their way somewhere with a manila envelope to fulfil a trámite…

Anyway, on your question: The first year I listened maybe 2-4 times to interesting podcasts and some lessons on LingQ. After that I just kept going, listening to more and more stuff. In the beginning, or when I am tired still now, I slow the audio down by 20%.

well…you do not have to agree with me…this is the way dominicans use the term…in Ecuador they might mean something else…I do not know…I have never been there…Educated dominicans would never drop that particular “s”…they might drop “s” ending when speaking very fast.

Thanks for telling me about your strategy. Cheers, Luis

Per the Word Brain, you are about half way there.

He says it takes 1500 to 2000 hrs of listening for your brain to be able to adequately parse a foreign language. I think it’s closer to 2000.

It makes sense to me that you understand over 90% of what you hear in a one-to-one conversation. But, as I’m sure you are aware of, it takes a much higher level of listening ability to understand TV, radio, movies, and native speakers talking to each other. That’s where the next 1000 hrs comes in.

@lusan - you should check your math. That’s about 1 hr per day, not 2. Due to the tremendous amount of time it takes to acquire the necessary skills to learn a language from scratch to a high level (C1/C2), I recommend a 3 year schedule to those who want to do the “fast track”. Amongst other things, this requires 2 hrs/day listening.

How many hours of listening are required to get used to a new language depends on many factors, especially the similarity of the new language to languages you already know. In my experience it also depends on how much reading you do to accompany the listening. It also depends on your goals. However well you know a language there are still moments when you don’t understand. As Wulfgar says, movies are tough.

I took a long time for me to get used to Russian, but after that Czech was easier, Ukrainian even easier, and Polish will be even easier. Going from Spanish to Portuguese went quite quickly. Korean remains a toughie because of the lack of interesting content with both audio and text, which kinds of discourages me from putting in the necessary time. So compelling content is another factor.

I would be wary of any hard and fast rules on how long it takes, and just focus on finding ways to enjoy your listening and reading. Most of all, congratulations on what you have achieved.


"How many hours of listening are required to get used to a new language depends on many factors, especially the similarity of the new language to languages you already know. "
I used to believe this too, but after reading what the word brain had to say, and relating it to my personal experiences, I no longer do. There may be a small impact, or it might give you such a big head start that you will reach intermediate faster, but I’m a big believer of the 1500 to 2000 hours for an advanced level of listening in any language.

Thanks. My language is Polish. I already feel that I am not listening enough to reach my goal of going to plays and cultural events 3 years from now. I have not placed much emphasis on listening, though I listen better and better everyday. For English and Spanish speakers at the beginning Polish sounds very odd and alien. So I plan to take the goal of 500 hours by no later than January 1, 2016. About 2 hours/day to reach it. Coincidentally it is to 2 hours/day. Of course, it does not include other activities. I know that it will take time and patience, so…

I clicked on the link to thewordbrain but didn’t see the specific reference to these 1500 2000 words needed to achieve an advanced level of listening comprehension in any language.
I would like to see the argument because this is contrary to my experience and appears contrary to common sense. After 30 hours of listening to Romanian (and working on LingQ) I understood Romanian better than Korean despite may hundreds of hours of listening and working with LingQ.
You can’t understand words that you don’t know. If the new language has common vocabulary with languages you know, you will understand it faster. You will recognize and more easily remember words that sound the same or very close to words that you know from another language.


With Spanish I would say 1500-2000 sounds credible, at least in my case. I would tend to agree with Steve that if I had Italian or Portuguese it would take less hours. I hope so anyway since I think I will tackle another romance language after Spanish. I don’t watch much TV so I can’t comment on that much, but my radio comprehension is better than any other context (partly because people annunciate better on the radio, they are less likely to talk over one another, and stick to a set topic). Real life can be quite a bit harder.

I’ve always aimed for 2-4 hours a day. I think this is only possible if you find content that you absolutely love and if possible replaces some of the listening you do in your native language. In my case that has been news. I normally listen to 2-3 hours of news a day in English so made sense to shift that over to Spanish.

As the Table of Contents says, the section on listening begins on page 21. I recommend reading the whole paper though so you can see everything he’s recommending. That way his advice is more likely to make sense. Of course there are things that I don’t find helpful in it. I did a review here:

I agree that it’s counterintuitive. Doesn’t knowing 25% of the vocabulary by virtue of a language being similar mean that it will take 25% less time to master listening? After reading the word brain and considering it, I now think the answer is “no”. This is my theory about what he “discovered”. If you listen to real native material often and for a long time, you are essentially being exposed to the whole language constantly while you are listening to it. If it takes 2000 hours for the human brain to be able to parse the whole language, that’s how long it will take on the average to get comfortable with each word. Being familiar with 25% of the words shouldn’t make it any faster to learn the remaining 75% by that logic.

As far as needing to read for listening to be optimal, I completely agree, and so does he. But I don’t believe that “more” is necessarily “better”. I believe that there is a saturation level. In other words, if you are listening x hours a day, then you need to be reading at least y hours a day to get the most benefit for your listening. It’s ok to read more, but after that level it doesn’t contribute much if any to your listening level. And finally, to fully optimize listening, you should get saturated in all the other skills as well. This is why I’m not a believer in the lingQ “method”. But I do find the tool very useful for my purposes.

What does parse the whole language mean?

Oh yes and just thought today Lusan, although I think all that listening was really important I don’t think it would have been nearly as useful if I hadn’t been reading at the same time. Apparently I have read 2.8 million words in 2.5 years. For me the reading supports the listening and not the other way around.

Yay - gooo you!

I’m curious, how much of your listening, especially early on, was incomprehensible input? Do you think it is still valuable to listen even if you understand very little? I know that’s often a hot topic around here, but considering you have literally put in the time, I’d be interested in your opinion.

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Thanks for asking, I didn’t actually listen to that much that I would describe as incomprehensible. At the beginning I listened to lessons off LingQ and listened to them several times. But never stuff that was way above my level. However I do often listen to podcasts and I’m not paying full attention. This is what I mean about how difficult it is to measure listening because it is very difficult to maintain concentration for long periods of time.

I think you really need to be listening to content that interests you even if you don’t understand that much. You need to convince t brain that you are not listening to nonsense and that would be very difficult if there was very little about it you understood. Actually, maybe the desire to understand the content is more important than how difficult it is.

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