How do you react when you don't understand something?

Hey guys, thought this might be an interesting discussion. I’ve been learning spanish for an awfully long time now and sometimes I’m not quite sure how to react when I listen to something and dont’ understand it. Obviously the first reaction is generally one of frustration, but I think the worst thing is, I often don’t understand WHY i don’t understand something…it seems just a case, usually, of I either understand it or I don’t. the line between understand something and not understanding something seems so think that when i don’t i often don’t know why I can’t understand it. I usually would have to put it down to whats being spoken about, or the quality of the recording…but sometimes i just think im making excuses for myself. thoughts?

I often have similar thoughts. Sometimes it is discouraging, but you just have to keep in mind that what you don’t understand will eventually be understood. Language learning is really quite humbling, and that is part of why I like it.

@Corin: Be patient, young grasshopper. I think I checked your profile once and you’ve only been in Spain for like a few months, right? How many hours including time spent practicing in England do you have total invested in Spanish? A thousand? Two thousand? Regardless, it really isn’t that much time with the language. It’s really going take about 10 years of 10 hour a day immersion to be treated as a “native.” I.E, you will always miss things because you don’t know the word, the expression, or because the other person is talking too fast. If you miss one or two words of the 30 that the native speaker just told you, you’ll definitely get the gist, but will not get everything in the message. Is hearing and understanding all of the words important to you? If yes, then you’ll have to just keep on working at it, practicing, speaking, reading, and writing. If not, then you can be content in being able to understand everything said to you at a normal pace and only most of what is said at real “native-speed.”

Good luck and don’t get discouraged. I’ve spent most likely three or four times more hours with Spanish and every day I feel stupid because I forget something or don’t understand something. And in case you haven’t done this much, speaking via phone is a LOT harder than speaking in person. Ask your immigrant friends what is harder and I would bet big money that 95% or so say that speaking via phone is a lot more difficult for comprehension.

@ cazasigiloso

“How many hours including time spent practicing in England do you have total invested in Spanish? - See more at:

I seem to remember that Corin is Scottish.

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When I don’t understand something, usually I transform into a giant green angry monster and run around Vienna roaring and smashing stuff.

Oh, I didn’t notice. I just saw the British flag and just typed “England.” So you turn into the Hulk? You live in Vienna or you travel from England to Vienna just to roar and smash stuff?

I am also Scottish.


Are you from the Catholic part (Belfast) of the Protestant part (Dublin)?



Belfast - in Northern Ireland

Dublin - in the Republic of Ireland

And Scotland is, well, Scotland…! :-0

Yes Scotland. The place with Guinness, Kilts, and red hair.

Aye, kilts, red hair, whisky…and golf. And when the wind blows, some of those kilted caledonian warriors are swinging mighty clubs! :smiley:

(I think I can just about get away with that level of innuendo…!)

I thought whisky and big things worthy of innuendo were Irish… along with the city of Edingboroughhhghouhh.

I can certainly confirm the part about mighty clubs.

Ok ok, I guess I will post something on topic.

I guess it is just a matter of time, work, and exposure. It takes a lot of time to learn the vocabulary, and for it all to sink in.

I think learning to understand and learning to speak are very different. When learning to speak, if you work intensively, you improve really quickly. If you speak a lot, your speaking will improve a lot. If you speak two hours a day for a week, you will improve more than if you speak one hour a day for two weeks, I suspect. On the other hand, learning to understand is the opposite, I think. One of the most important things is that what you learn sinks in, and this takes time.

I am learning German. I remember due to a couple of work related trips, I didn’t speak, listen to, or read any German for several weeks. when I started again, my level of speaking was much lower than it had been, but I immediately understood more than I did a few weeks before.

I second the last comment from Colin. What one needs is massive and continual exposure. (After 6 months of being dunked completely from head to foot 24/7 in German, I was just beginning to get warmed up…)

"After 6 months of being dunked completely from head to foot 24/7 in German, I was just beginning to get warmed up… "

What I would do to be completely immersed in French for even 3 months! I’ve only had short tastes of immersion… and even in a week one can see how much it helps.

I would claim, though, that comprehension is easier to improve on ones own, even outside of a country where a language is spoken. I can listen to a lot of French sitting here in the middle of nowhere at my parents house. When I’m in France I’m too busy to really get input.

I think the time spent listening to real people in real conversations is better in general, but let’s be honest, who wants to spend an hour with native speakers not understanding a word of what people are talking about? I have done it many many times in Austria, and it always unpleasant. It is much more pleasant to listen on the mp3 player while alone.


You can learn a significant amount in a couple of weeks of immersion if you are at intermediate+ level. (But ultimately the longer the period of residence, the more one will probably learn.)

I don’t have a link, but I seem vaguely to remember hearing of some research which suggested that a series of shorter stays might actually be better than one longer term stay - i.e. eight weeks broken down into 4 two-week stays spread over a year might be better than one single eight-week stay…

It sounds plausible, I have no idea. We would really need to see how the research was conducted.

This happens to me every day in Switzerland with people. I just say “uhhhhhh…” and then they repeat it in perfect English. Works every time