It’s widely agreed that good listening skills are critical to learning a language. Good listening skills are important when trying to understand other people. You need to understand other people and correctly hear the questions that they ask you to have a decent conversation with them.
There are many forms of listening practice. The most basic being listening to what another person says to you whilst you are talking to them. This is the purest form, but it’s not the best, for one you cannot replay what you hear over again over again until you understand it. If you ask the other person to repeat themselves they will more than likely adjust the words and sentence structure to make the sentence easier to understand.
Another traditional form of listening practice is music. This can be enjoyable and is useful for picking up set phrases. However it lacks sensible pronunciation and can contain broken up sentences which might confuse you. Movies and television programmes are better, but the nature of the dialog is often fast paced, with words often spoken directly to another actor or actress rather than to the camera.
Television news is spoken clearly and to the camera, but it is often depressing, and full of vocabulary relevant only to the news stories of that day. Radio is better, especially now many shows are available to download as podcasts. However many radio show hosts speak far too fast for the intermediate learner.
There are plenty of language learning podcasts out there, but these often end up being too simple and aimed at the overly ambitious newcomer with loose purse strings. Not to mention the fact that most are fairly boring, or on topics that whilst potentially interesting to some, aren’t overly interesting to most.
The language learner needs content which comes in a natural form, but is also clear, sensibly paced and relevant. You may have tried all of the above sources for listening practice, and been frustrated by your lack of enjoyment or satisfaction after trying them.
Wouldn’t it be great then if there was a source of Spanish listening material, recorded by mostly Spanish natives, that was relevant to the modern day, easily accessible and re-playable, and of an ideal length?
Well I’m pleased to say that I think I have discovered such a source! That being interviews with stars of ‘La Liga’ (the top Spanish football league), made available freely on YouTube.
These videos are extremely useful to a large percentage of Spanish language learners for some key reasons.
1) They are interesting. Rather than watch videos of people buying train tickets or asking for directions, instead listen to Jose Mourinho’s views on the race for the La Liga title.
2) They are of excellent quality. Clearly the team behind the videos have forked out for some pretty nifty kit, as the video and sound quality is astonishingly good. This is fantastic for the listener who wants to hear every word clearly.
3) The Spanish spoken is of a steady but natural pace. Again this a huge slice of luck for the language learner, due to the fact that many journalists are making notes whilst the interviews are going on the players and managers tend to talk fairly slowly. Extremely slowly in Mourinho’s case (he wants to ensure the reporters have time to write down his words of wisdom!).
4) The content is free, and is updated on a daily basis. Language learners need a constant supply of new material to keep them interested. Thankfully La Liga add several of these videos every single day, so you will never run out of content to listen to.
5) The players and managers speak directly to the camera (to you). This is an extremely important point. Often the dialogue between two people in a movie is fast paced and directed at one another. This can make it hard to understand at times as you often don’t see the lip movements of the actors, and many are off-screen when speaking. Here the speaker is looking directly at the camera, speaking to you, with minimal background noise present.
6) The content is of an ideal length. Each video tends to be between 1 and 3 minutes long, which is a perfect length. As an intermediate listener this is the ideal length because your brain won’t feel tired after listening to it, and you will remember most of the key points put across by the speaker. Additionally you won’t have gotten bored of the speaker’s voice, meaning replaying it 3 or 4 times won’t be tiresome.
7) The ability to rewind/pause/replay/download/change speed. Finally, the nature of YouTube and Internet video players in general mean that it’s very easy to pause and rewind a video if you want to listen again. Additionally it’s easy to listen to just certain parts of the video again by navigating through the video stream. Downloading the videos and saving them to other devices such as MP3 players, and indeed adjusting the speed of playback is also fairly simple. There will be more on that at the end of this article.
So without delay, to the videos. Here I have chosen a few of the best examples of the kind of videos that La Liga freely place on YouTube every day. You can view them directly through my site, or continue on to YouTube and browse through the many thousands of videos that La Liga have uploaded.
First up is Real Madrid’s controversial manager Jose Mourinho, Portuguese but fluent in 5 languages. His Spanish is good to listen to primarily because it’s extremely clear, but secondly because his pronunciation seems less than perfect (his strong sharp V in vamos for example). The fact he doesn’t seem to follow certain pronunciation ideals and yet is considered fluent and worked for many years as a translator, makes me feel a little more relaxed and less pressured to always get it right.
Next up is Barcelona’s tough defender Carles Puyol, having a deep steady voice, he’s excellent listening material.
Here we have Barcelona’s play-maker Xavi, again from Catalunya. This interview is interesting as he answers one question in Catalan.
Now we have Real Madrid’s captain Iker Casillas. This video is harder to understand than the others, so you might want to follow the audio slowing down tutorial that I’ve added to the bottom of this post.
Now we have Andres Iniesta, Barcelona’s attacking midfielder. Scorer of the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup Final. Here he is talking about the supposed problems at their fierce rivals Real Madrid. This video is excellent as not only does Andres have a clear voice, but he’s talking slowly, about an interesting topic, and using fairly basic vocabulary. Perfect for the intermediate Spanish learner!
Finally we have Real Madrid’s holding midfielder Xabi Alonso. From the Basque region of Spain his accent is different to both the Madrid and Barcelona based players. Here he is talking about his sides game against Getafe.
How to make the best use of these videos
I think the best way to make use of these videos is to watch them through once, making a careful effort to understand. If you are an intermediate learner like myself, then you will probably understand most of the content, but perhaps miss certain sentences. This is where the pause and rewind buttons become extremely useful. I listen over and over again, until my brain can pick out all the words that are being said. Then I look up any verbs or vocabulary that I am not sure about in a dictionary, before replaying the video.
I know I am done with a video when I can understand it clearly enough to be able to write a transcript if I wanted to. Until that point I play it over and over again, listening hard to the one or two sentences that are often pronounced in a way that’s tricky for the learner to digest (for example in Puyol’s video when talks about the Nou Camp being full, the sentence comes out as one long sound to me, I had to listen carefully a few times to hear the estar).
Whilst gaining additional listening time and practice I also find that these types of videos enhance my ability to hear distinct accents. The great thing about having videos of well known sports stars is that you can quickly go to their Wikipedia pages and see where they were born and grew up, to gain a better understanding of which accent they posses.
How to download the audio (for listening on an MP3 player, perhaps at a slower pace)
Sites such as Video2MP3.net ( http://www.video2mp3.net ) allow you to enter the link of a YouTube video and have the website turn it into an MP3 file for you. This is extremely useful for the language learner because you can drop in links to videos with audio that you want to extract the audio of, and get back a shiny new MP3 file. The process is very simple, and as long as you’re careful not to accidentally click on the advert links, you should have your MP3 file in a matter of seconds.
The MP3 file will be downloaded onto your computer, and be in some kind of ‘Downloads’ folder, from here you could move it onto an MP3 player for example, or simply playback the file on your computer.
How to slow down an MP3 audio file so that you can hear each word
VLC Player ( http://www.videolan.org/vlc/ ) is not only an excellent all-round media player, but it has one feature which is superb for language learners. It allows you to play an audio file at a slower pace than it was recorded at, whilst ensuring that it still sounds good. This is perfect if you have a Spanish podcast, or the audio from Spanish interview videos such as the ones above. All you need to do is download VLC Player (it’s free – ensure you only install that and nothing extra), then load up the MP3 file, then click Playback -> Speed -> Slower. This has helped me out no end, especially with interesting content that was slightly too fast for me to understand at the recorded speed.