How To Understand Conversation In Spanish: 5 Reliable Steps To Quickly Boost Your Listening Skills Dramatically

What if there was a perfect step by step recipe to understand conversations in Spanish? 

Would you follow it until understanding real native speakers becomes a natural thing to you? 

The truth is that most people who want to learn Spanish feel frustrated when they can’t understand people during conversations.

If that’s you, in this blog post you’ll learn how to improve your skills to understand real conversations in Spanish. 

Also, I’ll walk you through an awesome tool that I recently tested online. 

So, let’s jump right into it.

Affiliate Disclosure: Any product I recommend in this article was tested by me, and what I suggest is only high-quality resources. That’s why I included affiliate links in this article, which means that I earn a commission at no extra cost to you when you purchase a product I’ve linked to.

How to Improve your skills to understand conversations in Spanish

First of all, I have to be clear: 

If you think you’re going to understand people having conversations in Spanish by: 

  • Taking lessons with a teacher
  • Or going through a textbook to learn Spanish

Then you are far, far away from understanding real-life native speakers.

Star wars intro: A long time ago, in a galaxy far away no one learned spanish with a textbook

To be honest, I don’t know the first person who’s acquired great listening skills attending only Spanish classes. 

Another thing that won’t help you is to “force” yourself to acquire the language. 

Just like I was doing it, in one of my first attempts to learn English.

(I’m a Spanish native speaker by the way)

I thought that I could learn just like a child:

“Ok, let’s switch the language of my TV to English, so the language gets to my brain naturally. After all, that’s how children learn languages, right?”

Me at the beginining of my first language learning journey

Needless to say it didn’t work out very well.

I ended up switching back to Spanish because all I was hearing was an indecipherable language.

So, none of these approaches will give you the skills you need to engage in real conversations in Spanish.

If you want to understand native speakers talking spontaneously, you need to change your strategy.

You have to be proactive about it, and you need to find the right learning material. 

And, what does “the right learning material” mean?

It means that you have to find resources that fit your current level of Spanish.

How To Find Learning Material That Improves Your Listening Skills

I’ll get on my soapbox for a minute to say: 

If you want to understand real conversations in Spanish, you have to train your listening skills.

That’s it:

Listening is the key to conversations in any language.

If you already went through the basics in Spanish, then those listening exercises from your textbook are useless.

You know, I’m talking about the typical dialogs you find in textbooks.

The classic “ordering food dialog” that usually goes: 

Juan: Buenas noches, una mesa para dos, por favor.
Mesero: Claro, pasen por aquí, por favor.
Juan: ¿Cuál es la especialidad de la casa?

You know what’s funny about these unnatural dialogs? 

That the dish the characters talk about is mostly something typical from Spain, like: 

Mesero: Tenemos paella en salsa de la casa. 

Needless to say, that’s not how people talk in real life. 

Nobody talks in such an artificial way, not even in your mother language.  

What You Need Is Learning Material To Work On Your Listening

Look for tools or resources that offer:

  • A natural conversation rhythm 
  • Expressions and vocabulary that people actually use in daily life
  • Tools to complement your listening time: Transcriptions or key phrases to focus your attention on specific phrases.
  • The option to download the audio so you can listen to Spanish beyond your online time.

Of course, you can find lots of learning materials that have all these required features on the Internet.

The best thing is that you can even find them for free in podcasts, youtube channels, apps, or websites. 

Another thing you can do is to look for high-quality premium content.

Resources that offer all the tools you need to increase your listening skills. 

That way, you wouldn’t need to waste your time looking for free material.

One of my favorite premium resources is the course Conversations by my friend Olly Richards from I will teach you a language.

More on that later…

For now, let’s suppose that you already have a great source of listening material.

Now what?

How To Take The Most Out Of Your Listening Time  

Once you find a resource that fits your level and offers the features that I listed above, your next move is to use it the right way. 

But wait… what does the “right way” mean? 

If you’re going to listen to something in Spanish like a podcast, a video, an audiobook, an audio course…

Isn’t that just about sitting down and listening to it?

Well, you can passively listen to a story, and you’d be making progress, that’s true. 

But, if you want to maximize your listening time, you definitely need to follow:

The 5 Reliable Steps To Increase Your Listening Skills In Spanish

Several authorities in the language learning field recommend these same steps, and it’s no surprise.

I’ve tried them myself as I learned English and a bit of portugese, and the results are powerful.

Actually, this is how Olly, the creator of Conversations recommends going over his course.

I’ll break them down for you, so you can start applying them right away.

Step 1: Plain Listening

That means, relax, and listen to the audio. 

Don’t stop when you can’t understand words or expressions, we’ll solve this later.

Just go through the whole audio from start to finish, and repeat this step for at least 3 – 4x.

The goal is to get your ears used to the sounds that will become easy to understand messages for you. 

Step 2: Listen & Read 

Remember that I said that a good resource to increase your listening skills needs to have transcriptions? 

Well, In this step we’re going to use your eyes to read the transcription of what you’re listening to.

Just play the audio and read along with the transcription. 

I’m sure that on this step, you’ll recognize some words that were impossible to catch in step 1.

Make sure to mark down any phrases or words that you just don’t know what they mean.

Repeat this process 2-3x, and then go to the next step.

Step 3: Look up the meaning of unknown words

You may use a dictionary, or you could use google translator (this is my favorite one).

These tools will help you clarify all the words and sentences you don’t know.

In this step, we’re aiming to understand everything that’s written in the transcription. 

In some premium resources like Conversations, you might even find the meaning of keywords right there.

There might also be complete text translations to English.

Tools like that are time-saving because you don’t need anything else to figure out the meaning of the new words.

Everything is right there for you. 

Step 4: Listen & Read Again.

After you understand everything you read in the transcription, go back to listening. 

Use your transcription to read along with the audio.

This way, you’ll be associating the words you just learned with the sounds and pronunciation you hear in the audio. 

Several repetitions of this step will be enough to be able to identify when you hear the new words.

Step 5: Put away the transcription

You just read all of what you’ll hear, and now you know what the audio is about.

Now it’s time to put away that transcription and listen again without it.

This time you’ll feel how your brain perceives all the new stuff easily.

Perhaps you won’t be able to understand everything at first, but don’t give up.

Repeating this step will end up in you understanding each and every word of what you hear.

Following this strategy is an extremely powerful activity that can make you feel like you’re making progress almost instantly.

But now, a good question arises, if you use these techniques….

How Long Will It Take You Until You Can Understand Native Speakers Having Conversations In Spanish Easily?

vintage books and and old clock

It depends on a lot of different factors, for instance:

If you spend 1 hour a week going through audio in Spanish, it won’t be the same impact as if you do 15 minutes every day. 

Being regular matters. It’s more important than investing a huge amount of time in one day.

When you practice a skill like Spanish every day, then results will show up at any time.

Progress depends a lot on you.

For example, when I was learning English I became obsessed with it.

I got to the point to do 2 – 3 hours a day of listening to stories in English. 

But, those were different times…

Back then my only responsibility was to go to college and play videogames all day. 

It’s way different when you have family and responsibilities. 

So, just try to find a routine that works for you.

As I said, 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference if you do it every day.

The Resources You Use Can Make You Progress Faster (Or Slower)

Taking the time to look for good free resources can be time-consuming.

You can find great resources for free, but they might have some downsides like:

  • The content might not be well structured
  • Or it’ll be just a small part of a premium product. 

Now, if you decide to invest in improving your listening skills, you’ll probably reduce the time you’ll need to improve your abilities. 

I, myself, invested in my English back when I was learning.

I bought a collection of stories in English that seriously made my progress faster.

(It wasn’t actually me, it was my dad who bought them. Back then I was just a broke teenager, trying to survive adolescence and acne).

Premium courses can make a huge difference, like Conversations by Olly Richards. 

I’ve mentioned it numerous times throughout this article, and I’ve done it because I recently went through it.

Actually, I was really impressed by the high-quality of this course.

Let me tell you why I liked it so much, and if you like it, I highly suggest you go ahead and invest in it if you have the chance. 

Also, I’ll tell you about some things I didn’t like about this course, so you can have these points in mind whether you decide to get it for yourself, or you want to go after another resource.

Easy To Understand Conversations In Spanish

More than a course, Conversations by Olly Richards is a story.

However, this is not a story with the classic narrator describing what’s happening to the characters. 

Instead of that, you’re going to hear the characters having conversations, and as you hear them talking, you’ll find out what is actually happening and how the story develops. 

The whole course comes in audio format, and even better, everything from the course is downloadable, so you can have the mp3 files available for offline practice. 

During the conversations, you’ll hear: 

  • A natural rhythm of speaking, yet, it’s not too fast so it’s super difficult to understand.
  • The characters will use idioms and spontaneous expressions as they speak. 
  • An engaging story, that even I was enjoying (a Spanish native speaker). Every time I heard a chapter I was left with this sensation of wanting to know what happens next.
  • Of course, the conversations were recorded by native speakers, and this is highly valuable because you’ll be hearing them talk naturally.

I loved that Olly made a special effort to present the story as attractive as possible.

I percieved that at the introduction section.

That’s where you’ll be introduced to every character (even graphically), and the place in which the story will develop.

Also, before every chapter, you’ll have a summary written in Spanish, just to give you some context on what’s about to happen. 

Everything You Need To Understand The Conversations In Spanish

If your listening skills are low, then you might get overwhelmed the first time you hear one of the conversations in Olly’s course.

Nevertheless, you’ll have all the tools to turn that noise that sounds like people talking Spanish into actually an easy to understand the message and a clear conversation that makes sense.

To be more specific, in each chapter, you’ll have: 

  • A video, so you can read and listen to the chapter at the same time. 
  • A transcription with keywords, so you can focus your study time on specific phrases. 
  • At the bottom of every transcription, you’ll have a vocabulary section, in which you’ll find the meaning of the keywords. 
  • An English translation. 

Heck, throughout the course, Olly will give you some expert tips, so you can make the most out of your listening time. 

There’s even a listening masterclass in this course, in which, you’ll go more in-depth on why listening will ultimately be your best tool to improve a lot in Spanish. 

As I said before, I know you can get listening material for free, but all these tools make Conversations a powerful resource to make a lot of progress in your Spanish. 

I took the time to make a video, so you can see what it looks like to be into the course, and all the tools I’m talking about:

What I Dislike About Conversations

To be honest, this is a really high-quality course, and there are just a few things that I don’t like (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken the time to write so much about it). 

For example, all the conversations are recorded by native speakers, but all you’ll hear is going to be a Castilian accent (from Spain). 

This is one of the fastest accents in Spanish, so your listening skills can be well trained.

However, I feel like getting used to other accents is important too. 

I struggled with this when learning English.

I learned mostly from Americans, so it was easier for me to understand them.

On the other hand, it took me a while to understand British people, and the Scottish accent was just impossible for me, even though I was at an advanced level.  

Because of that, I think that conversations could’ve offered more value if there were other accents involved.

Another thing I didn’t like, was that there’s a lot of English when you’re just getting started with the course.

Like in the introduction section.

The goal is to give you a clear and accurate context, but if those small details were in Spanish, it would’ve been a little more exciting for those hungry of getting into the story.

Finally, something I hated about this course was the villain of the story.

She was such a witch! 

Final Thoughts 

Conversations promises to improve your listening skills in less than 90 days

In my experience as a language learner, I think that this is a realistic goal.

It’s just not good for total beginners though.

The only thing you require is the discipline to go through it deeply and regularly during those 3 months.

If you’d like to test this course, then you can learn more about it in the following link:

Conversations by Olly Richards

This product is available in seven different languages. You can check each available version at the following links: 

So, whether you end up getting this great course, or you decide to go for the freebies, remember one thing:

Listening is an essential skill that you have to train. 

Understanding conversations in Spanish or any other language will be possible if you take your time to improve your listening abilities.

And you can improve the effectiveness of your listening time by applying the steps that I taught you in this article. 

By the way, do you know any more techniques to work on your listening skills? 

Let me know in the comments below.

Diego Cuadros is a blogger and a Spanish online teacher. He uses stories to help Spanish lovers understand fast-speaking native speakers, so they don't freeze and panic in conversations.

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