It is a fact when students learn Spanish that one of the most common frustrations comes when after they studied in a Spanish group class for a few months and even a few years, when they hear a conversation between 2 native speakers they can’t understand what they say and feel frustrated. Sometimes they even wonder if they should take more expensive private lessons instead of being in a group course.
So is there a way in which you can improve your listening skills?
Yes of course, unfortunately improving listening is a LONG TERM PROCESS which sometimes can be FRUSTRATING since is hard for you to check your progress.
So what can be done?
There are two ways, one pro active (faster) and one passive (slower):
The proactive one which is the ideal one but unfortunately there are less chances to do so is by practicing your speaking skills at the same time. By directly interacting in a conversation in Spanish with your teacher in your spanish class or a local person if you are in a Spanish speaking country you will be indirectly improving your listening skills. Another example is for students taking the IGCSE or the DELE exam by practicing many times the typical exam questions that you get asked in a oral exam (what do you like to do in your free time, who do you go with, when do you usually go…) you will be also improving your listening. Then when it comes to hearing conversations in those topics you are more likely to understand what they are saying.
The passive one consists in just watching tv shows or movies that you like and that you might be familiar with (or not) in Spanish with subtitles (English subtitles are good too because you will unconsciously associate the Spanish sound with the English meaning). Unfortunately this takes a lot of time invested and you might feel frustrated that after watching 3 movies in Spanish or watching a few episodes of a series you think your level stays the same. But if you persevere and you continue to do so for long enough (6 months to 1 year) you will definitely feel the difference!
Students should also understand that this is a VERY SLOW BUT LASTING PROCESS. A clear example is many students I personally know that had that exposure to the Spanish language when they were kids. After 2 years learning Spanish they stopped. And they thought they forgot everything. When they had to study Spanish for secondary school even they were very lazy students they were performing much better at listening than their classmates who were hard working and were doing better in writing tests or even speaking tests.
So as a summary, improving listening is slow and needs a lot of patience! If you need to improve your skills for your exam, the best is to do a lot of speaking with your teacher based on the exam topics and you will definitely feel the improvement! If you can only attend a spanish group class but you still want to improve your listening, start watching movies and shows in Spanish with English subtitles and keep doing so, don’t give up learning Spanish!