Stuck at Intermediate level

Spanish is my practicing language, and I’m getting so frustrated right now. How do I stop the translation from Spanish to English in my head? I understand each individual word in a conversation but don’t understand the total sentence. When does it all click and clear up? I feel like I went about learning Spanish the wrong way or backwards by learning all the grammar first, but can understand very little. I can read and write fine, but when I speak with my Colombiana friend I don’t understand too much unless she speaks veeeery slow and the coloquial and slang terms really throw me off.

I’ve spent the last month only watching spanish TV to see if that helps. I found Lingq about a month ago and Steve is my living example of what’s possible. I feel like progress has stopped. Maybe I just haven’t put in enough listening time. Any experienced Spanish learners have any advice?


If you need to learn Columbian slang ask your friend to record something for you, and listen to it over and over. I find that for long periods of time it seems that we are not making progress. We can read, we can hear the words, but we cannot make sense of it. You just have to keep going and all of a sudden you feel that you have turned the corner. This can happen at any time, but it takes time, and it takes a positive attitude. Good luck.

I’m not a Spanish learner but I don’t think that Spanish has anything unique aspects which make it different from most languages (an example would be Chinese with its script), so I’ll try to give you some advice.

You’ll keep translating in your head until you feel confident that you don’t need to do so. And, I don’t think it’s something you’ll give up completely. Perhaps it’s possible but I think even those most advanced at another language occasionally translate a word here and there in their heads. Don’t worry about it - it’s not a big deal. Probably you’ve been told “Don’t translate in your head, it’s evil!” which has given you a bit of a complex about it. It’s really not that bad.

Personally, I’ve found that there is no single ‘epiphany moment’ which people love to talk about on language learning websites. What I’ve seen is a gradual improvement if I put the right amount of time and effort into a language.

I’d agree that you went by learning the grammar first - BUT that doesn’t really matter now. You can still salvage things. Also, it sounds like it wasn’t all in vain as you do understand some and for reading and writing, you have some skills.

Start listening to and reading a lot of material. Become a basic member of LingQ and use the method as it is prescribed by Steve and if work on it, your Spanish will be good in no time.

I agree with Imy that the growth is gradual, but there are moments when you realize that you have climbed to a new height. I am at such a moment right now in my Czech.

Perhaps this is something which isn’t felt for the first language you learn? Or perhaps there’s another reason for this. Certainly it’s a psychological factor as we don’t develop a huge amount overnight.

I’d like to see your thoughts on this Steve, if you don’t mind sharing them with us.

Thanks for the replies Steve and Imy. I guess I’ll have to just keep putting in the listening time. I am a subscriber here. I think it’s worth it. Would it be too confusing to learn another language like Italian that’s so close to Spanish?

I agree that progress (level of comprehension) is a fairly smooth slope (assuming plenty of input throughout). But I think that the self-assessment of your comprehension doesn’t always keep pace with your actual comprehension. This can give the illusion of a ‘click’ that isn’t actually a sudden change in comprehension, only in your assessment of your comprehension.

Personally, I’d not study Spanish and Italian at the same time. If it were me, I’d do Spanish and Romanian, because they are different enough (if those 2 languages happened to be particularly interesting for me at the time) (Not a suggestion - that’s just how I’d approach it.)

I’m studying Dutch and Yiddish simultaneously and I find it works well. German and Yiddish would be a nightmare, however. I guess there are others who can give you some more information on how close they are and if it’s wise to tackle them at the same time. I’ve always had the impression that they are rather close.

Good point about self assessment kcb, that is a possibility. @ Imy I certainly feel that it’s my duty to understand when I’m being spoken to and that adds a sort of psychological pressure.

Kcb, I think that the way I do 4/5 hours of exposure to native level material every day, prevents any such feeling of sudden growth in comprehension.

Imy I agree that as we gain more experience in language learning we become more confident that things will eventually fall into place. Our confidence helps us learn since there are fewer negative feelings, frustration etc. getting in the way.

I personally prefer to focus on one language at a time. However, if you feel you have reached a plateau in Spanish, by all means do some Italian, but put a lot of effort into it. When you return to Spanish in a few months you may find that your Spanish has improved, since your ability and attitude toward language learning will have improved.

I also agree with kcb.

@ Imy I was suspecting that they were too close. Even now with the beginner Italian I mix them up. I’ll probally hold off on the Italian until I have Spanish under control lol.

@Imy I don’t know your routine, but I do large chunks a day as well and still there are big bunches of words that every once in a while I realize that I know. Sometimes this is because I take the time to move words to ‘learned’ via the vocabulary page. Since I use my words known as a gauge, I certainly feel clicks in my assessment. This is artificial, but so is any method of self-assessment (on some level). I suspect that any similar peculiarity in however you gauge your level of comprehension will create a gap.

@talturios I can’t comment on the relationship between Italian and Spanish, but I’ve studied two closely related languages simultaneously. I started Hindi and then a couple of months later started Gujarati. I didn’t have the time to pursue them for long, but while I was at it I didn’t feel there was much interference. I was intrigued by the similarities and differences and I think that my interest ensured that I didn’t jumble them much.

In the last few months I have reached a good level in reading Spanish and am beginning to focus more on listening. I am confident that listening comprehension will increase over time as I listen more. This year I am considering starting both French and Portuguese while still working on my Spanish. I am not at all concerned that I may mash them together. I think whether it will work for you is more dependent on you (your interests and personality) than on how closely related the two languages may be.

I have studied Italian for 3 years, and am now seriously studying Spanish. The similarities between the two have given me many advantages in Spanish comprehension, and I have been attaining good results in Spanish with much less deliberate effort than I did with Italian, my first foreign language. Of course, I was already at a rather advanced level of Italian before I started Spanish, I did not study them simultaneously. Because of this my Italian is rather unaffected by my Spanish, i.e. I rarely slip out a Spanish word while speaking Italian, even though my current language studies are focused much more heavily on Spanish at the moment. However, I do have large issues going the other way, because I have such a large gap between my rather high Spanish comprehension level and rather low ability to express myself in Spanish, I have noticed that when I have to speak Spanish, Italian words and Italian pronunciation of Spanish words run rampant in my attempts to speak Spanish. This is slowly diminishing with increased Spanish speaking practice.

With regards to comprehension, I discovered that usually when my friends speak of difficulty understanding native speakers speak it winds up boiling down to a lack of vocabulary. When I realized this was holding me back in my earlier days of Italian (well before I stumbled across LingQ), I stopped doing “listening exercises” and focused almost exclusively on reading and flashcard study until I was reading news articles and books with only 1 or so unknown words per paragraph. That’s when I started downloading talk radio podcasts and listening to them constantly, after a couple months of just hammering myself with talk radio broadcasts my comprehension went from nil to over 90%, because I already knew most of the words, I just had to train my ear to understand them.

@talturios I share you frustration, and have been there, and I’m there again :slight_smile:

With my first foreign language, Polish, it took a long time for me to stop translating in my head whilst listening. There was no magical formula and I don’t even remember how or when it started to happen, I think it was so gradual that I didn’t notice, and the more you listen, the easier it becomes. You need to listen to lots of content, e.g. I watched lots of TV and films, but it has to be interesting. There will come a point eventually when you stop worrying about translating in your head and you just understand it. You may not understand everything, but having a context to work with also really helps. I think you are on the right track when your mind stops trying to pick out individual words, and instead starts to understand groups of words together which give a distinct meaning.

One thing that helped me a lot in the beginning were the Harry Potter books. I listened to the audiobooks, already knowing the story pretty well, and this helped a lot. Once I got used to the characters, the dialog just naturally started to make more sense. But it was difficult to start with.

I’m currently learning Spanish as my second foreign language and being back at the beginning of learning a new language, it doesn’t feel as bad this time round. I’m less bothered that what I listen to sounds like a long slur of words, I know that with practice I will get used to it. It just takes a lot of work and patience.

On the other hand, I still translate in my head when speaking, which I’m hoping will eventually go within time.