When learning a foreign language, mastering the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing is key. In this blog, we set out some top tips to improve your listening skills. Find something you enjoy listening to - whether it's TV, radio, film or music - and let your understanding of the language improve and develop.
Learning a foreign language is an accumulative skill, which has to be built up over time and practised as much as possible in the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. You should start regular practise in all four areas as early as possible in the course, because this is definitely not a subject that can be crammed into a short space of time or squeezed into last minute revision sessions. Getting that top grade at A-Level is also about making the right choices when it comes to the cultural topics of literature and film as well as about honing your exam technique. Even students with native-level language skills will have to make sure their cultural knowledge is strong and learn how to fine-tune their answers to ensure they satisfy the examiners’ rigorous criteria. Being fluent in the language is not enough on its own.
You will be getting regular listening practice as part of your course, whether at school or college, online or via a distance learning package. This will be very specific to the exam syllabus content, and designed to prepare you for the final listening exam. Of course this is absolutely necessary and you cannot really expect to do well in the listening element without it. But, there is plenty more that you can do to really tune your ear and improve your Spanish listening skills.
Ideally, you should put aside 5-10 minutes each day (or at least regularly) to listen to Spanish material. This will really help and, in the grand scheme of things, requires very little effort; just a little discipline to establish the initial routine, and motivation to do your listening by picking something you find interesting to listen to. You will find that you can tune your ear to the language by listening to absolutely anything in the target language, provided it is not too technical and that it is audible.
If you enjoy listening to music anyway this is a great way to discover new artists or albums whilst learning some of the language at the same time. You can find almost any genre of music online nowadays and YouTube and Spotify are the perfect places to start. Not only will this help your understanding of the language and improve your listening skills, but it will also broaden your knowledge of Spanish and Latin American popular culture too. (If you have ever marvelled at the amazing English language skills of people from other countries, remember just how much of the world’s most popular music is in English, so just by exposing themselves to that, they have a good head-start already).
It is now relatively easy to stream foreign language films online, or you could get hold of some DVDs that you can switch into Spanish and watch them with subtitles too so that you can also read the language you are listening to . Don’t be put off by how fast the dialogue seems at first. After a while you will be amazed how much you pick up and how quickly your ears get used to hearing the language and picking out words/phrases you recognise. If it’s a favourite film of yours or you know the story and some of the dialogue by heart – even better! You will need to get used to watching and understanding plays and/or films in Spanish anyway for your A-Level course so the sooner you start the better!
There are plenty of ways to listen to authentic Spanish radio and watching Spanish TV online. As before you should pick something you genuinely enjoy so that it doesn’t become a chore and pick a station that plays music in Spanish rather than international music much of which tends to be in English. A good place to start would be http://www.listenlive.eu/spain.html or the apps TuneIn Radio and Simple Radio for radio. Try the app Spain TV or http://streema.com/tv/country/Spain for Spanish television online.
There are a number of websites out there that are set up for learners of foreign languages with free and easy-to-access target language material. The BBC have several that are excellent where you can access video-clips, soap operas and other TV programmes in the target language and practice listening exam questions for free online. TIP!!!! When searching for clips online use google.es (for Spanish from Spain) or the equivalent from Latin American countries and type your search terms in the language. This will give you a wider choice of authentic material.
Don’t be afraid to listen to the same passages over and over again or go back to a clip from earlier on in the course. It is in fact useful to do this in order to really understand something. It will also help to build your confidence if you go back and listen again to something you found very difficult several weeks/months before, as you will see how much progress you have made and how far your listening skills have developed.
Nearer the exam time, go onto the exam board website and download any MP3s from previous listening exam papers to do. This will give you a good idea of what to expect from the format and speed of the passages in the actual exam.
In short, it will help you to listen to absolutely anything you can access in the target language – use your imagination and have some fun.