How to learn to understand native speakers?

Hello everyone. I’ve been learning Spanish for about a year and a half now. I’d probably say that I’m at about an intermediate level in terms of reading and listening. I can read books at a B1/B2 level. I still have to look up words in the glossary but reading books at this level is not a struggle. I can also understand most of what I listen to when I listen to podcasts aimed at Spanish learners. The problem is that, when I listen to native Spanish speakers talking normally, I still understand very little. So little that most of the time I do not even have a general idea of what people are talking about. I want to be able to understand native speakers, so I have a couple of questions:

  1. What have people found the most useful activity for improving your listening comprehension of native speakers?

I have tried just listening to content made for native speakers, such as podcasts. But I have found that even after spending lots of time listening to such material, I don’t seem to get much better. Maybe I’m just getting better very slowly and don’t notice and I just need to spend more time listening. But I don’t want to be wasting my time doing something that isn’t helping. On that note:

  1. Does anyone know of any research that has looked into what technuiques work best for improving listening comprehension in relation to native speakers?

The problem I find is that when I listen to native speakers speaking normally, their speech usually just sounds like a blur of sound. I had an idea for a method to help overcome this obstacle, which would be to find content where native speakers are speaking naturally that includes a transcript. Then, I could read through the transcript first and listen to the audio after, and hopefully I would then have better success at picking out what people are saying. In that way, maybe I would be able to start learning how to understand native speakers speaking naturally:

  1. Does anyone now where you can find content with a transcript where native speakers are speaking naturally?
    I know you can find podcasts for Spanish learners that includes a transcript, but I don’t really have much problem understanding this type of content. The ideal scenario would be to have a transcript for a normal Spanish podcast where people are speaking in a more informal conversational style. Such as this:


  1. Will the fact that I can’t understand native speakers speaking naturally mean that I will not be able to have conversations or make friends with native speaker when travelling to Spanish speaking countries?
    This was the whole point of learning a new language. I was thinking that maybe at my current level I will still be able to find people that are willing to speak more clearly and simply when talking to you, and so perhaps this will still be possible. Or will the vast majority of people simply not have the patience for this?

You need to just listen more to native speech. With no stats on LingQ I can’t tell how many hours of listening you’ve actually done…but it will take hundreds of hours before you will be able to understand two natives talking to each other.

I would suggest listening more in general, podcasts, audiobooks, youtube, movies. Ideally with a transcript to review and/or follow along. If you are on LingQ you can import these if you have them. Or if on Netflix or Youtube you could use Language Reactor program to help.

I’d further suggest the Easy Spanish youtube channel. If you’re not familiar, most of the videos take the form of the Easy Spanish team going out onto the street and asking natives questions on a particular topic. You’ll get authentic native speech complete with the mumbling, abbreviating, pauses, restarts, etc. Also, the subtitles, both Spanish and English, are burned in, so you can follow along. If you become a patreon supporter you can get the transcripts as a separate file. (Importing into LingQ from youtube will just give the autogenerated subtitles (unless something has changed for this channel) which are ok, but not ideal).

Listening is just simply difficult. You are used to reading at your own slow pace (in comparison). You don’t have a chance to catch up, unless you have a pause button or can slow down the speed of the sound. Reading and listening at the same time you might find helpful. This will help keep you at a good pace and force you to try and comprehend quicker. It will also allow you to see the words with the sounds and form those associations. You can speed up the sound as you get better. You can also review the text on its own to look up words and phrases you don’t know.

Of course, you also need to read more. The more words you know the better. Plus you also need to speed up your comprehension of words you already know and reading more and more will help with that, either with or without listening.


You just have to slowly venture into listening to material by native speakers. Pick someone who speaks clearly, but off the cuff. Don’t go for books, but rather podcasts, YouTube, interviews, TV series, improvised material or at least the appearance of it, etc. There are some topics, which are easier than others, so pick lessons based on the number of blue and yellow words. Then slowly up the difficulty, by increasing the playback speed to 1.1x or 1.25x, listening to fast speakers, listening to groups of people, listening to poor quality recordings, etc. Just rinse and repeat.

Several strategies, which are useful:

  • Read while listening
  • Listen to stuff you’ve already read
  • Relisten, relisten, relisten
    You need hundreds of hours of listening. At 350 hours of listening and 1.2M read of Italian, I can watch some TV series without subtitles.

To get a transcript, just find YouTube videos with subtitles (just search for a topic written in your L2 and filter for subtitles). You can then import them into LingQ with the browser extension. You can also use for podcasts.

Here are two recent forum threads you may be interested in:

EDIT: “Will the fact that I can’t understand native speakers speaking naturally mean that I will not be able to have conversations or make friends with native speaker when travelling to Spanish speaking countries?”

Yes. If you can’t understand native speakers speaking, then you are just relying on body language. You answered your own question. That said, if it is only you and one other native speaker, that person will over time unconsciously speak clearer and use simpler language for you. It may be also at an intentional level, but it’s often at an subconscious level. When that native speaker gets in a group of other native speakers, then you really know how they actually normally speak.


You can use the AI transcript - general someone someone posted in another thread.

I don’t have good recommendations for podcasts with transcripts in Spanish, so I’d appreciate recommendations!

I listened to a couple of episodes of a podcast called Se Habla Espanol. It’s made for learners, but it takes native speakers talking in Spanish language interviews and analyzes the grammatical constructions/phrases of the things that that these celebrities say in interviews. (Most of the “celebrities” are people I’ve never heard of though.) So since they play the speech several times, first playing it , and then again when they analyze each part, (they analyze it in Spanish, but kind of at a learner pace, while the actual speech is at a native pace), you end up hearing and understanding more each time.
It’s not inherently interesting to me though so I’ve only listened to like 2!!

So I’d still appreciate listening recommendations. I used to listen to El Washington Post but they discontinued their podcast. El WaPo didn’t have a transcript but I understood like 80% of it so it was fine. I also listen to audiobooks but although I’m sure it helps, it’s not natural speech. So if anyone knows interesting podcasts-- I like cultural topics like films and books, and also about politics and current events-- I’d be open to that as well!


Regarding #4,
So you won’t likely be able to follow two native speakers speaking. You’ll likely catch bits and pieces that you might understand.

In regards to conversing with natives they may or may not speak simply. Or they may switch to English on you! I think it depends on the context too. Someone who is in the service industry - hotel, restaurant, vendor…might switch to English if they feel they are better at that than you are at Spanish. Just to either make things easier for you, expedite things, or to make sure you understand important things.

I think a couple of things can help…pick a country or city/town where English is less likely to be used. Some place less touristy or smaller towns would help. We recently went to Colombia and while the hotel staff and tour guides spoke English with us, we were able to communicate in Spanish with uber drivers and waiters and waitresses and certain vendors. (My gf mostly, but I did try a bit as well).

Steve mentions he likes to go on cab rides and test his speaking with them. So that or uber drivers might be a possibility. They are somewhat of a captive audience anyway, so they may find it interesting that you’ll want to speak to them in their language. Private tour guides might as well…although to some degree they have a lot of information they want to tell you about, but if it’s private you can probably insist on Spanish only. Or just in between the information sessions you can try talking to them in Spanish a bit. In Colombia, a couple of times we had drivers for the tour guides that didn’t speak English, so occasionally I would ask whatever random question I might think of in Spanish to them too (which wasn’t much, but it was fun to try a bit).

  1. This explains that there are limits to understanding of mumbling, even if you ARE a native speaker. Must watch:
    Why we all need subtitles now - YouTube

  2. Watching youtube shows or TV series with subtitles, when you’re keeping in mind the line, while repeating several times the related audio piece. There are a lot of apps, add-ons for browsers [Ejoy extension, for example] and for video players [VLC has such built-in option, turned off by default in the settings] for this matter that allow you rewind by subtitles. Repeat until you figure out how exactly the sounds of a line reduced to what you actually hear instead of distinct articulation. It’s the best exercise imo. A bit boring, but extremely effective. Try it out for 2 hours, 3 days in a row and you’ll see progress. And don’t get stuck to one particular line forever, just be reasonable.

  3. Speaking (or something like shadowing after native speakers) also helps getting used to reduced pronunciation.

The primary problem also has little to do with your overall listening skills. I want to point out that listening to the podcast for language learners or any talk shows for the natives is essential in building a solid foundation allowing you to explore your interest and do more things, such as communicating with natives in the language. The initial 200 hours of listening will get you a good foundation in the language, and you will be able to explore, enjoy and learn practically anything with over 500 hours. A good idea will be to test yourself to see where your listening skills lie concerning certain materials. As a good rule of thumb, the ability to easily follow the speakers with or without subtitles should be considered two different levels of mastery in listening skills to be developed. I use the following contents to better assess my listening skills in a formal setting that uses explicit language with a crisp and clear voice most of the time. (Podcast for language learners)
(Presentation of a lot of intriguing topics for natives)
Any TV series

One important thing to know is that a lack of specific listening skills in learners is likely to amplify difficulty in comprehension in a real-life scenario. There’s not so much difference between two native Spanish speakers in getting used to the Andalusian accent with their respective origin in Spain and a Spanish-speaking country in South America. But what if I ask them to make on-demand interpretations from a presentation with an Andalusian accent, provided both are fluent in English?

  1. I did not find anything out of the ordinary in the YouTube video you quoted in #3. However, I did notice a few things worth our attention.
  • The speed at which the speaker talks prevents language learners from picking up the message efficiently. Sometimes multiple speakers talk at the same time. Listening to the content you are comfortable with at a higher speed would be a choice.
  • Learners may or may not find the accent to be a problem. It will be helpful to get used to different accents in Spanish after you become more comfortable with a more neutral accent. Eventually, you may reach the point of adopting a particular accent to your preference.
  • Some of the basics of language skills need to be deliberately practiced to reduce the response time and ingrained to be part of your brain so you can process the message more spontaneously and naturally, similar to a native. I recommend working on little things like diminutives, connector and filler words, and grammatical structures like the subjunctive, idioms, etc. I do also find practicing basic phrases like “Don’t make me laugh.” “You’re not kidding me” in a few hundred to be helpful. I used that to automate my brain process with internalized information and use it effortlessly without much thinking.
  • I also tune in to Spanish music radio channels while commuting in a car from time to time. I am becoming more comfortable with dedicated content in this format over time. The lyrics of particular songs, casual talks from the host/guests, and radio ads that include fast-paced disclaimer from the radio channel presents no challenges for me now.
  1. Then, I could read through the transcript first and listen to the audio after, and hopefully I would then have better success at picking out what people are saying. In that way, maybe I would be able to start learning how to understand native speakers speaking naturally:

That’s the way to go. Many re-listening may be needed to reinforce the listening skills by focusing on different aspects of the language, and getting used to them may take a while. For my first TV series, I would study the scripture in the first place and watch it with subtitles. Once I have a good mastery of the language structures and vocabulary from the first TV series, I will watch the second or third series with subtitles directly. I lean towards watching videos without subtitles gradually over time.

  1. I used to be addicted to watching a talk show in Spanish, where several related guests in the conflict were invited to the show with the audience. They would argue fiercely, and many people talked simultaneously. They have also interacted with the audience by answering questions or seeking opinions. I recommend watching talk shows with more casual language on ordinary daily topics.

  2. A traveling schedule lasting a few days or a couple of weeks would only allow you to do little things in terms of language learning. One of the strategies that you can use is pretending that you have a basic knowledge of English. Most people would resort to English or adjust their speaking speed with shorter and simple words to facilitate communication between them and you. It does not hurt to ask people to repeat the words slowly sometimes. You can always ask the native speaker to speak more casually to you if you happen to be in a lesson with a tutor or a language exchange session with a native, provided you have reached a decent conversational skill in Spanish.

One of the best ways to learn Spanish when traveling to the country is to live with a hosting family, and idealistically it would be someone you know who speaks the language fluently, such as a family member or a long-time friend. You would mingle with them through daily interaction, allowing you greater freedom in exploring the culture. That could be every language learner’s dream. I find much inspiration in the persons from the following videos as opposed to some “Polyglot” showing off their superficial skills in the language by a few bantering with natives in a local community.

Happy learning.

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I think you are missing one step in your listening. That is to attach words with their corresponding meaning. So it is advisable to listen to Spanish while reading along in your native language/known language for meaning(use DeepL). Do it a few times. Better to work with short transcripts/texts. Then repeat the process with text in Spanish. Then listen to the audio without any text. First at slow speed then at fast speed.

Watch Youtube videos at different speeds (1.25x, 1.5x etc) to improve your listening skills. This piece of advice was given to me by a qualified German teacher here in Germany.

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I have always struggled with listening comprehension, my weakest foreign language muscle.

One very nice thing to come out of Duolingo for Spanish/French/English learners are their free podcasts. These are based on very interesting, timeless local stories, and while they make an effort to keep the language at an intermediate level, the stories are typically narrated by the person the story is about. So you hear regional accents and native speakers who speak fairly naturally.

The French podcasts (and probably the Spanish ones) interleave each chunk of story with a (different, continuing) chunk in English. I love this, as it helps me keep the thread of the story with my crappy listening comprehension.

I listen to a story through once, understanding what I understand, and then listen again (10’ a day over several days) and write down what I hear. As I write out each word, I do understand! Then I use the podcast transcript to correct my work. I have found this to be fun and powerful.

Netflix has my target language available for most shows so I also watch everything I possibly can in French. Which is vaguely hilarious for US-situated shows.

My progress is slow but noticeable. French speakers are pretty rare here but the other day I overheard a mom who was talking to her kids and I understood most of it :grinning:


You have to ladder up the level of difficulty. You can’t jump to the top of the ladder without stepping onto each progressively more difficult step.
Input has to be just barely comprehensible. Just above your level and no more.
Native speakers are the pinnacle.

I’ll flesh out how you do it tomorrow…

EDIT: here’s a tidbit: look up extr@ spanish on youtube (Spanish TV series for Learning). Watch it back to back 2-3 times. You’re welcome.


It was late at night when I replied so I didn’t go into detail:
Me… I can speak Spanish fluently. I’m likely high B2/low C1 in Spanish.
I’m probably mid intermediate in French and low intermediate in Russian.

My technique is almost completely in the early stages based around listening.
Here’s how I do it:
First - memorize the most frequency 2-3,000 words of my target language from audio (as in mp3s of the words) in anki.
Then start watching youtube in order of difficulty of categories.
I will start with TPRS (search youtube for this). Watch TPRS type channels for about 2 months (roughly the same amount of time it takes to memorize the first 2-3,000 word in anki).
TPRS is like this lady:

NOTE: I’m not using lingQ at all in this phase.
Next I’ll find something like extr@ (if it exists for my target language): extr@ exists for Spanish, French and German. I’ll watch it a couple times, one episode per night.
At this stage I’ll also start listening (listening ONLY) to the mini-stories over and over.
This takes about a month. I’m still adding in mp3 words in anki… target is at least 5,000-6,000 words.
Then I’ll start watching some kind of teacher podcast on youtube for my target language for the next month (you can usually find these as ‘slowly spoken spanish’ or ‘easy spanish’ or equivalent.
Like this person (maria petrova)

Still listening to mini-stories.
Then the next month I’ll continue with the teacher-type podcasts but also start watching monologues from somebody who is relatively clearly spoken (experimentation is key to find somebody you understand). (still listening to mini-stories).
Like this guy (russian with max)

Then the next month I’ll start trying to watch a podcast from a native language speaker but slow it down to 0.9X.
Like this guy (varlamov)

This takes about 6-7 months. At the end of it, I have been roughly low intermediate in listening comprehension.

So you’re probably asking “yeah but I asked how to understand tv shows”.

So that part unfortunately is a hard slog:
You need to ladder this up as well over at least six months and up to a year (like in Spanish for me).
Start by continuing to watch the native content podcasters but also start to watch easy to understand TV shows like soap operas/telenovelas/crime shows.
You will discover that typical shows targeted for middle-class educated folks are the very hardest to understand of all (e.g. netflix shows).
The key, though, is to find a show you like and watch it over and over and over.
But only when you’re ready. If you’re not ready it will just be frustrating.

As for LingQ reading; I only do this in the second six months.

For reference: my target are these two shows;

At this stage (Russian) I’m a year and a half in. I can understand about 60-70% of the first one (the method) and about 40-50% (better than us) of the second one.
I can understand varlamov (native podcaster) typically about 60-70% unslowed and about 80-90% slowed. Russian with Max I understand 80-90% unslowed and nearly 100% slowed. Maria Petrova I understand 100% unslowed.

Anyhow: TLDR; ladder up in order of difficulty and bear in mind that listening is listening, reading is reading, speaking is speaking and writing is writing. They overlap but they are NOT the same, so if you want to understand spoken speech you have to listen/watch youtube/tv. A lot. At least an hour a day.


Also… for transcripts… you want “language reactor” plugin for whatever browser you’re using: chrome, firefox, edge/whatever.

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OP (and xxdb)
There is a great channel that Peter pointed out to me for Spanish that is in the same vain as what xxdb proposed above for TPRS style youtube channel…

Dreaming Spanish. Dreaming Spanish - YouTube

They have videos for all levels, so OP can see where he fits in level wise with listening to these. My Spanish “time” is pretty limited with my main focus on German, but I’ve definitely added in listening to these.


Nos dijiste que has estudiado el español por un año y medio, pues ya llegaste al punto más difícil: entiendes y puedes comunicate aunque no lo suficiente, por lo consiguiente, te frustras. De aquí y en adelante las cosas se complicarán, así que no te preocupes más bien disfruta el viaje.

Me tardé años para sentirme cómodo escuchando lo que dicen los nativos, aún tengo problemas, como ayer: me novia me dijo algo y me quedé en blanco, no entendí ni una palabra. Entonces, siga estudiando, tardarás más de uno o dos años para entender bien el español.

Otro problema es que lo que dicen los nativos y cómo lo dicen no se correlaciona a lo que estudias. Expresiones como “cómo estás” y “qué bueno” lo enseñaron en cursos y libros de textos en lugar del lenguaje cotidiano, como: “ qué pedo carnal” y “qué padre”, y asi como hay que hablar con nativos.

El español está compuesto de dialectos que no son iguales. Yo vivo en la Ciudad de México, por lo tanto, no estudio “español” más bien el chilango, he aceptado que no entiendo bien otros dialectos de español: todavía no tengo ni idea de lo qué significa “os”. Entonces, no vas a comprender bien todo lo que escuchas debido a que el español es una lengua rica y diversa.

Retomando lo de arriba, no creo que haya un sólo método para mejorar la compresión auditiva, no obstante, te explico lo que yo hago para mejorar mi compresión auditiva:

  • Hay que aceptar que no vas a entender bien todo lo que escuchas, no hay otro remedio;

  • te tardaa años en aprender bien el español, para mi uno o dos años no es suficiente;

  • Enfócate en uno o dos dialectos del español, no importa cuales sean. Por ejemplo, escucha la radio de Madrid, pelis de españa y YouTubers madrileños en lugar de escuchar todos los dialectos de español. No obstante, a medida que tu compresión mejorar sería importante que escuches dialectos distintos (Ojalá que lo hiciera antes);

  • Hable con nativos, si quieres entenderlos;

  • Como ya lograste el nivel intermedio, en vez de seguir con los materiales para estudiantes, déjalos a un lado y empieza con materiales auténticos;

  • Haz resúmenes de lo que escuchas. Es muy bueno. Por ejemplo, la semana pasada escuché esta clase sobre Karl Marx (El método dialéctico materialista de Karl Marx - Los Grundrisse - YouTube), mientras que lo escuché tomaba notas, luego escribí un resumen de la clase;

  • Lo más importante es que no dejes de estudiar.

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