Lupa Review: Tune Your Ear to Spanish with Authentic Content
Let’s face it, if you can’t understand what native speakers are saying it’s impossible to reach Spanish fluency.
And after you get beyond the beginner level, you eventually reach a plateau.
You can speak some Spanish, and can even hold a basic conversation, but you struggle with understanding native speakers–especially when they're talking to each other.
But the problem is, either you’re listening to content that is too easy and doesn’t challenge you, or you try to watch movies and TV series intended for a Spanish-speaking audience and it’s just too difficult.
You get lost and can’t follow along, and there just isn’t enough context or support to help you figure it out.
So what do you do if you want to get beyond the comfort of slow-paced speech from Spanish courses and podcasts made just for Spanish learners, and really improve your Spanish listening skills with authentic content?
If you’ve been learning Spanish and listening to podcasts, chances are you’ve heard of Radio Ambulante.
Led by Carolina Guerrero and Daniel Alarcón, the podcast started in 2011 and is now part of the National Public Radio (NPR) lineup.
Radio Ambulante’s stories feature extraordinary people from all over Latin America telling their stories, in their own voices.
To make their stories more accessible for Spanish learners, Radio Ambulante has partnered with Jiveworld, a technology company whose mission is to remove cultural barriers by promoting language fluency.
They aimed to build a self-study app to address one of the biggest obstacles facing many language learners: understanding native speakers.
Improving Listening with Authentic Latin American Content
Radio Ambulante’s unique stories are recorded on-site all over Latin America and normally require native-level Spanish fluency to understand.
The Lupa app uses Jiveworld’s audio player and ear training method to help your ear adapt to the sounds of Spanish spoken by native speakers.
Lupa is designed for intermediate and advanced Spanish learners who want to achieve a better understanding of Latin America while learning the language. You’ll be listening to the stories with just enough help to keep you on track.
You can listen and relisten to the stories with either the entire transcript as its being said or by only reviewing some of the words. Lupa engages you by only showing you certain words so you still have to pay attention and listen.
So let's take a look at some of the features…
Keep your ears engaged by limiting text
You have control over how much text is revealed by clicking on the “abc” button at the bottom right, which helps you focus and avoid getting overwhelmed.
This is a nice feature to keep you engaged in the story while challenging your listening comprehension.
Repeat and re-listen
You can repeat each chapter and/or play specific lines of the text. Before each section, a ‘passage hint’ with a brief description of each chapter is shown. It gives you a general idea regarding the context of the section.
Smart vocabulary review
Whenever you click on a word to see its translation, it automatically gets added to your vocabulary list for that episode.
Instead of giving you a random definition from an online dictionary like most apps, Lupa actually gives you the meaning of the word that matches the context in the story.
They also identify and explain the use of colloquialisms and phrases, which is a huge help for understanding what you’re listening to.
You can then view the list to review the words and their definitions before you re-listen to that section.
You control the speed
The stories are broken down into short sections with the ability to change the audio speed.
This is especially helpful for difficult-to-understand accents and fast talkers.
This will also enhance your understanding of pronunciation and tune your ear to different accents from throughout Latin America.
Listen to stories that truly interest you
You can search for stories by topic, country, or duration. This is an awesome feature for finding what interests you or to focus on a specific country. Searching by duration also makes sense if you only have a short amount of time or would like to dedicate x amount of time for self-studying.
Keep track of your progress
You can keep track of the stories you have listened to, the ones that you have not yet finished, and the unplayed ones.
In this section you will also find the ones you have downloaded to your phone to access while offline. You can also keep track of your progress. Lupa allows you to set specific goals for how much listening you want to do each week.
What Could Be Better
Vocabulary Review is Limited
Although the app states you can review vocabulary easily, it actually isn't very robust. You have to go to the story to view the vocabulary list, and it just shows you all of the words at the same time.
Not for Beginners
The stories provided on Lupa are told by native speakers who speak Spanish in a natural way–not slow, curated “teacher speak.” This can be jarring for someone who is just starting out.
The app would not be recommended for beginners. If you still don't feel confident holding a conversation in Spanish, then Pimsleur Spanish would be a better option for you (see my Pimsluer review here).
The Bottom Line: Is this really the answer to understanding native speakers?
The Lupa app is a great resource for learners who want to gain a deeper understanding of Latin America and add culturally relevant vocabulary.
You’ll be learning more than words and phrases. It will help you get used to hearing and understanding Spanish in a conversational tone, and not the ordinary textbook examples.
The availability of the app (you can download stories to listen while not connected) makes it easy to learn a little while you’re on the go, so it’s ideal for busy language learners as well.
I would recommend Lupa for intermediate and advanced learners that are looking for more exposure to hearing native Spanish speakers in a variety of contexts and subject areas.
I personally love the fact that you can search stories by country, which really helps you focus on a particular type of Spanish. You're also more likely to learn and remember words when they are used in a context you have an interest in.
You can try out your first 2 stories at no cost, which is great if you want to test it out. Just download the Lupa app at this link: https://www.lupa.app/salsa
You can start learning for free and if you decide to upgrade to the full version, you’ll get a special discount.
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