Why is it so difficult to understand native Spanish speakers? You study every day. You continually improve your vocabulary and feel confident reading. Yet it all goes out to the window when you speak with a native Spanish speaker.
I know exactly how frustrating that is — I’ve been there. So, why is it so difficult to understand native Spanish speakers?
After spending over 10 years studying Spanish, I’ve come to realize why the language can be so challenging to understand when you interact with native speakers. Here are four reasons why it’s so difficult to understand natively spoken Spanish — and tips to help you adapt and improve!
#1 Reason: Spanish Is Really Fast
Spanish is one of the fastest spoken languages in the world, right after Japanese. While you can study and read at your own pace, once you get out into the real world you’re off to the races. Chances are you’ll be struggling to keep up.
So, how can you overcome this seemingly insurmountable obstacle?
First, whenever it happens, be sure to ask the native Spanish speaker to slow down. You can say “más lento por favor” and hopefully they will slow things down to something more your speed.
If you’re listening to a podcast or a video on YouTube, there are actually speed controls available to you. Don’t hesitate to slow down what you’re listening to give your brain more time to catch up.I use this all the time when I’m listening to podcasts in English to speed things up; you can do the same to slow things down to something your speed.
#2 Reason: Your Study Material Is Too Easy
Another reason why Spanish is hard to understand when you’re talking to a native speaker is that the material you’ve been practicing with might be holding your hand a little too much.
If your study materials are too basic, it might be hard for you to really push yourself. While you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, you also don’t want to study at a snail’s pace. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. In addition to reading and studying grammar, listen to natively-spoken Spanish to get used to the language’s flow and rhythm — as well as how quick it can be.
- La Casa de Papel (series)
- Monarca (series)
- Roma (movie)
- Como Caído del Cielo (movie)
Any material that’s available in Spanish (ideally by a native speaker) can help you level up.
#3 Reason: Spanish Is Incredibly Diverse
The third reason why Spanish can be so difficult to understand is that over 20 countries have Spanish as the official language; it’s the second most spoken language. The language can be found in Spain, South America, Central America, and much of North America. Naturally, that means you’re going to encounter different accents, different slang, and even different spellings and pronunciations.
To resolve this, focus on the type of Spanish that makes the most sense for you to learn. If you live in Europe, learn Spanish spoken in Spain. If you visit Mexico every year on holiday, learn Mexican Spanish.
Once you focus on one accent and become familiar with it it’s going to be a lot easier to speak with native Spanish speakers from that area because you’ve trained your ear to focus on how it sounds in that specific country or region. From there, you can start to expand to different accents to broaden your linguistic horizons.
#4 Reason: Not Getting Enough Quality Practice
The fourth reason why Spanish is hard to understand is that you might not be getting enough quality listening practice. What I mean by quality listening practice is that you don’t want to split your attention when you study. For example, suppose you’re going to practice your listening skills. You really need to focus on your listening. Don’t try to listen and study grammar and work on your vocabulary. Just listen.
I think it’s hilarious there’s a video on YouTube that talks about learning Spanish while you sleep. You can’t! You really need to listen carefully to the Spanish that you’re listening to for practice so you can internalize the flow and pacing as well as the pronunciation. Listening is a skill. It takes regular, dedicated practice to hone.
Unfortunately, Spanish doesn’t just miraculously embed itself into your brain from listening to it. You can’t learn Spanish while you sleep. (If you could, I wouldn’t be out here pestering you about grammar!)
But, with dedicated daily practice, you’ll slowly be able to grapple with this fast-paced language. Day by day, more and more words will make sense. The pacing and rhythm of the language will become recognizable. The pieces will begin to fit together.
Learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t get frustrated when you can’t understand a native speaker right away. Simply follow the tips above, practice every day, and you’ll make it to the finish line sooner than you think!