I often get asked if I watch Spanish movies and TV to practice listening, and the answer is “no, I don’t have the time, nor the attention span!” I prefer listening to podcasts which I can do when I’m stuck on the train or doing chores. These are the podcasts I would recommend most highly to anyone learning Spanish – the ones I’ve listen to the most. They all have their own styles and relative strengths but, most importantly, I find them challenging and entertaining.
1. At about 15 minutes a bite, A Mi Aire is very digestible for elementary (A2-B1) Spanish learners. Alicia, the host, generally riffs about 3 different topics that are simple but interesting. She speaks a little slower than your average Spaniard, but still keeps the authentic feel for the language that News in Slow Spanish lacks. Every episode also comes with a transcript to help you work through the fog.
2. Notes in Spanish is hosted by Marina (de España) and Ben (de Inglaterra), a husband and wife duo living in Madird. This means that, yes, you have to deal with the scary vosotros conjugation and the ceceo. While they have Beginner and Intermediate material, I’ve only listened to their ‘Advanced’ and ‘Gold’ episodes where they discuss a different topic for 13-17 minutes every episode. Their conversations are varied and stimulating and often a very good source of new vocab. One negative is that you might start sub-consciously copying Ben’s British-y pronunciation if I listen to him too much. You also have to pay if you want a transcript.
3. Australia’s very own SBS Spanish! Their episodes can vary greatly in length (4-25 minutes) but they usually feature interviews with a range of different people which exposes you to all the accents of el mundo hispanohablante – Spanish-speaking experts on health, politics and technology, writers, musicians, directors, organisers of Latin-culture events around Australia. Recommended for learners pushing for upper intermediate (B2). At first, you will think it’s fast and find the telephone interviews hard to decipher but so what, start with the short episodes and build from there! Don’t get frustrated, listen to it again and again. You will notice new little details every time – Enjoy those little victories.
4. Open Language. This link takes you to their three different shows (two, I think, have been phased out). Pa’ que sepas (6-15 mins) is a lot of fun and is great for ironing out little mistakes in your grammar and vocabulary. It’s a Q&A-style show presented half in English and half in Spanish. They always seem like they’re enjoying their work and so they should be! Del Taco al Tango (12-17 mins) is a little more like AMA or NiS – two or three people shooting the wind in Spanish about a different topic each time – the main differences are: (1) they’re usually American Spanish speakers and (2) they speak at their natural speeds. By the looks of things, ¡Ya Tú Sabes! is Open Language’s ‘SVU’ (the last Law & Order standing). I’ve not listened to it much but it seems like a halfway house between the two previous shows.
5. If you see me looking confused or randomly smiling to myself while I have my headphones in it might be because I’m listening to Radio Ambulante, the holy grail of Spanish podcasts. It’s made for native speakers and doesn’t simply follow the 15-minute discussion format, which makes it more difficult to understand than the others on this list but, thankfully, there are transcripts. Radio Ambulante is about story-telling – the personal, unique, often beautiful stories of Latin Americans that the English-speaking world might not be aware of. It’s been described as “This Latin American Life”.
6. YouTube. Okay, this isn’t a podcast but it’s a great resource for practicing your listening skills. Besides watching interviews of Shakira, Rafael Nadal, and this Steve McManaman humdinger, I found BBC Mundo‘s YouTube channel really helpful because their short, fast videos are so easy to re-watch. News stories are also often easier to follow because their context is usually quite clear (though news about Latin American politics is still very tough to follow for me, given my limited knowledge).
Takeaway: You may not always have someone to talk to but you can always improve your conversational skills regardless of where you are or what time it is as listening is one half of speaking! I hope you find something from these suggestions, I really can’t recommend them more highly. Play the long game-it all adds up. Find that balance between challenging and accessible, and enjoy the process.
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