Tips for Understanding Spoken Spanish from Benny Lewis

Spanish Learning Hacks

Unless you've been living under a rock (I know, such a cliche line but it's true) you've heard of this Irish polyglot with the audacity to assert you can be fluent in a language in just 3 months.

If you haven't, no worries.  I was able to pick his brain to help me learn how to fast track learning Spanish to a higher level.  And now I get to share his personal advice with you.

Benny's TED Talk on Language Hacking
Benny's TED Talk on Language Hacking

So how did I get to hang out with Benny?

No, I didn't have to fly to half way around the world or stalk track down him down during his book tour.  As part of the Add 1 Challenge, I was invited to a hangout with only 8 other people in the world that got to ask him any language learning question we wanted.

Since one of Benny's first languages he learned was Spanish, I was anxious to hear his feedback and tips on learning it.

Benny's Tips for Hearing Spanish Better

Since I started studying Spanish, I've always struggled with listening comprehension.  I was surprised to find out he also struggles with the fast pace of spoken Spanish, which he called “machine gun Spanish” that natives speakers sometimes hurl at you.

It almost seems like a challenge amongst some Spanish speakers.  When traveling to Panama, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, I was informed that we speak faster than anyone else.  I never understood this somewhat prideful declaration, as if the point of language is that someone won't understand you.

In any case, he gave me some useful tips for training my ear to understand spoken Spanish.  I had recently started listening to podcasts from Open Language and Spanish Pod 1o1, and this is one of Benny's recommended resources for training your ear for Spanish.  Each podcast lets you listen to a conversation, followed by a thorough breakdown phrases and explain meanings of new vocabulary from a native speaker and an English speaker.

I appreciate having both perspectives because an English speaker is more in-tune with the things we get tripped up on when learning Spanish, while the native Spanish speaker provides authentic pronunciation and accurate explanation of concepts that are hard to translate literally.  Then, you listen to the conversation again.  This explanation and repetition comes in short lessons, usually no more than 10 minutes.  It's a perfect way to get used to hearing the language spoken and also understanding it.  The podcasts are also available in all levels, from Beginner to Advanced.

Another similar approach he gave me was to record a 30-second clip of audio from the radio and spend about 10 minutes studying it.  Looking up new vocabulary and listening over and over until you understand it.

I got so much out of our short chat that it's too much to fit here.  I'll share more in my next post.

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