I had a revelation this week. I learned something this week that might just be the answer to how each of us can dramatically improve our Spanish and accelerate our progress toward becoming fluent.
I learned that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
If you are reading this posting, you may have received my poll asking you to identify which of the 4 Spanish skills is the easiest for you to develop, and in contrast identify which of the 4 skills is the hardest for you to develop. The 4 Spanish skills are reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Almost everyone said that reading is the easiest, and that listening is the hardest.
It is now clear to me that for the majority of native English speakers who are learning Spanish, listening is the weakest link … and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
So, what shall we do? Obviously, we must strengthen the weakest link … we must strengthen our ability to listen while Spanish is being spoken, and strengthen our ability to understand what is being said.
All our time spent studying more grammar, reading more Spanish, memorizing more vocabulary, and other similar exercises will be wasted if we neglect to develop the skill of listening with understanding.
Listening is the weakest link, and if we improve our ability to understand spoken Spanish, we will improve the other 3 learning skills as well.
Here are some strategies for improving our ability to listen with understanding:
Strategy #1: Move to a country where Spanish is spoken. Not possible for most of us at this moment, so let’s move on to the next strategy.
Strategy #2: Pay a Spanish speaker to speak to you. Some private tutors can be expensive, and I have found that since I already have strategies for learning Spanish grammar and for reading Spanish text, the real value in having a tutor is not so much the language instruction as it is the opportunity to tune my ear to understand spoken Spanish. So instead of looking for a tutor, you can probably find any number of Spanish speakers who would accept much less money than a tutor to simply speak with you in their native language. This might sound strange, but I am simply looking for solutions for resolving our weakest link. For you women out there, go and befriend a native Spanish speaking mother who would like to work outside the home but cannot because she stays at home with her small children, and then shock her by offering her money if she will let you hang out with her and the kids in her home so that you can hear them speak Spanish. That might seem strange at first, but wouldn’t that benefit both you and the family? And for you men out there, go over to Home Depot on 21st South later in the day and find one of the Latinos who has waited in vain for work all day, and offer him a free meal at McDonald’s across the parking lot in exchange for speaking with you in Spanish while you eat together. Once again this might sound strange, but I am simply grasping for solutions. As for me, right now I am paying a friend in Guatemala (who has no training as a tutor) $5 an hour to speak with me via Skype, which is more than double what most Spanish tutors make in Guatemala. He is especially grateful for the income since he has been out of work for over 2 years, and he would love to have some more business, so let me know if you want in on this deal and I will introduce you to him and give you his Skype address.
Okay, you are ready to hear about listening strategies that are not so strange and outgoing, right?
Strategy #3: Signup for LoMásTv at www.lomastv.com. Admittedly, I have not even done this yet myself, but I am going to be signing up soon since it became clear to me that listening with understanding is my weakest link. This program only costs $9.95 a month, and it gives you access to 660 Spanish videos (over 38 hours) that include the Spanish text AND English translation, as well as other useful tools.
Strategy #4: Watch the videos at http://www.laits.utexas.edu/spe/index.html, these are the FREE Spanish Proficiency Exercises developed by the University of Austin at Texas. I have watched all of these videos one time, but I must confess that the energy I invested in this exercise was half-ass at best because at the time I did not know that listening is my weakest link, and that my Spanish chain is only as strong as my weakest link. It was hard for me to understand everything that was being said (especially the videos beyond intermediate), so I did not give it my best effort. I will go back through these videos again.
Strategy #5: Watch the Destinos series for FREE at http://www.learner.org/series/destinos/. This series might seem a little dated since it was produced several years ago, but it was developed by a team of second language learning specialists, and it will help you develop your listening skills.
Strategy #6: Watch the videos at http://langmedia.fivecolleges.edu/. I just found this site the other day, and have only watched a few videos, but this is right in line with what will help us most. This site was created by a consortium of five colleges, and is dedicated to enhancing cultural awareness and language learning. Check it out.
They are many other options out there for strengthening our weakest link, but these are some of the ones I plan to pursue. For the foreseeable future, I am going to make listening my mantra, and skew heavily in this direction all of my efforts to learn Spanish.
Please let me know if there are other listening exercises or helpful web sites and programs that you know about, and I will share them with other Spanish language learners.