How To Understand Spoken Mexican Spanish

Most serious leaners of Spanish make a conscious effort to watch television in Spanish, especially the soap operas or telenovelas, listen to CD's, DVD's with subtitles, audiobooks and songs. These are excellent activities and highly recommended. The problem is that they often do not always contain a lot of true spontaneous conversations that are the test of true fluency.

When learners of Spanish hear native speakers conversing among themselves, they are usually very surprised by the rate of speaking. It all seems so fast, something like a stream of sounds with the odd intelligible word here and there.

The real problem isn't so much speed as not being able to make out the words. Once you have the words, you can at least look them up in a dictionary, understand the grammar and then figure out the meaning. Needless to say, if you have to do this while trying to converse, the whole exercise becomes rather tedious and frustrating.

And forget about idiomatic expressions, puns, jokes, cultural references and subtle nuances of meaning.

Spoken vs Written Spanish

The problem with authentic spoken language is that it is not made of nice, neatly organized sentences as you see in textbooks. A lot of sentences are cut short or clipped. Abbreviations and regional slang are quite common. The words all blend together. All kinds of extra seemingly meaningless words are thrown in.

People make mistakes and may or may not backtrack to correct themselves. Or they may even veer off in a different direction right in the middle of a sentence.

We all do this in our own language. Understanding is not a problem because we can fill the blanks and see through the clutter. Pity the poor learner who is trying to figure this all out.

On the other hand, the good news about spoken Spanish is that is it much easier than written Spanish. The grammar is usually quite simple. The vocabulary is usually very limited unless there are some technical terms.

The thing to keep in mind is that spoken everyday Spanish is very repetitive. In reality, a small number of words and grammar items are used over and over again.

Also remember that Spanish is spoken in many different accents in over 40 different countries. And within each country, there are regional accents.

Outside of Spain, the Spanish of Mexico is probably the most well known and popular variety of Spanish. This is the Spanish that most North Americans are likely to hear.

How can I improve my understanding of spoken Spanish?

At MondoLingua, we believe that there is nothing better than working with the real thing. We therefore recommend the systematic study of a wide variety of samples of authentic spoken Spanish.

And to save yourself a lot of work, wouldn't it be wonderful if each sample came with a complete transcript, a translation and a technical commentary that pointed out things to notice in the recording?

That's exactly what we do at MondoLingua. It's all part of the general approach underlying our learning tools. To show how this works, here a short excerpt of a Mexican recording of an amusing conversation between a radio host and an personal stylist.

With the recording we've included a transcript, a translation and a technical commentary The technical commentary highlights elements of grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation that you should pay close attention to.

We have deliberately kept the translation somewhat close to the original so that the Spanish structure is more apparent. We should point out that, except for some vocabulary, nothing in this recording is beyond the contents of our Essential Spanish 1 calendar or flashcards.

How To Use This Sample

Step 0: Download the recording here and the documentation in pdf format

Step 1: Listen a few times to see how much you understand.

Step 2: Look at the transcript and translation.

Step 3: Listen while reading the transcript.

Step 4: Look up in the dictionary any words you don't understand.

Step 5: Study the grammar from the transcript. Pay special attention to the forms of the verbs. Look at the form and placement of the object pronouns. Notice the reflexive or reciprocal verbs. Make sure you understand how everything works.

For pronunciation, pay attention to the rolled r and the d sound that is very different from the English d.

Step 6. Repeat listening 3-4 times a day for at least a week or until you feel that you understand everything completely.You should feel that you are beginning to know the samples by heart. This is a good sign.

Step 7: Try voice-over with the recordings, speaking odd words here and there. Then work your way up to entire phrases. This is not easy because the delivery is so fast. You don't have to try to speak over the entire recording. Just learning some phrases will do.

The end result? Because spoken language is so repetitive, you'll find that your understanding of other conversations will be automatically enhanced. And, above all, you will start to speak more and more fluently because you will have internalized many of the patterns of spoken Spanish in these recording.

This recording is just a tiny example of the effectiveness of working with selected examples of authentic language. This is of course the key idea of the calendars and the flashcards. These products build on phrases and pieces of dialog as building blocks.

The next logical step up is to build conversation skills by using and connecting these building blocks, as we saw here in this sample. .