Beginners Spanish Podcast 30 – Test Your Listening Skills

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Learning grammar is so important for any student of the Spanish language. In fact, it’s a vital part of building up your listening skill.

However, there comes a time when the grammar needs to be put to one side and the real work of listening to a genuine conversation in Spanish needs to happen.

The Right and the Wrong way to listen to a Spanish podcast.

Yes, that’s right! There is a right and a wrong way to listen to Spanish being spoken. Over the years we have come across many people who do not know how to listen and have had to learn it as a skill.

You may say: Well, all you need do is listen. What can be so difficult about that?

The truth of the matter, however, is that it isn’t as simple as you might have imagined. Let us tell you about some of the ways NOT to listen first:

The Wrong Way

Rabbit in the Headlights.

This is probably the most common. Many students when faced with a Spanish speaker talking to them quite literally PANIC. They start a running dialogue in their head that normally goes like this:

Oh my God! They’re talking to me in Spanish! What if I don’t understand! What will they think of me! I’m not good enough to have them talking to me! They think I’m fluent! I don’t understand! etc. etc. etc.

Finally, the person puts them out of their misery by finishing what they were saying and the poor listener realises that they HAVEN’T HEARD A WORD THEY SAID.

I’m sure I know that word.

This is another common listening mistake. As someone speaks to you in Spanish,  you hear a word that’s familiar but you can’t quite recall what it means. You start to search your memory asking yourself where you heard it before, whilst all the time telling yourself that you should know it.

Finally, the speaker comes to a close and you realise that YOU HAVEN?T HEARD A WORD THEY HAVE SAID.

The Right Way

The Shower Technique.

This is fairly self explanatory.  When you listen to someone what you should do is to imagine that their words are like drops of water from a shower. You let them wash over you without any attempt to focus on one particular drop.  The idea of this is to capture the idea of the sentence and not the individual details of what is being said. If you hear an unfamiliar word, you just let it go by and trust that your mind will fill in the gaps for you. This works very well.

Pay attention to when you listen in your own language. If someone asked you to repeat word for word what someone has told you, you would find it very difficult. Our minds focus on the message rather than the details.

The Vacant Stare.

This combines nicely with the Shower technique in as much as when someone is talking to you in Spanish, you let the words wash over you whilst you adopt a blank kind of mentality. It’s almost like a state of meditation or trance. Let your breathing slow down, soften the focus of your eyes. Relax your mind. When the person has finished, wait for your mind to tell you what they just said. You’ll be amazed how often what your mind tells you they said is absolutely correct. (And now and again it get’s it absolutely wrong, too!)

The Power of Three.

When you are listening to something NEVER assume that if you cannot understand it the first time around you never will.  This is simply not the case. To know if you can understand something you must first listen to it THREE times as a minimum.

The first time you are just getting a very basic idea of what is being said. The second time around your mind begins to help you fill in the details.  The third time, you begin to focus on the words you missed beforehand.

There is no shame in listening to something TEN or TWENTY times. How many times must children hear a word before they can use it?

Be brave Enough to Ask for Clarity.

If you are in a live conversation, then the most valuable phrases you can learn are:

¿Qué significa eso? = What does that mean?


¿Cómo se dice? = How do you say?


¿Puedes repetir eso, por favor? = Can you repeat that, please?

Listen if you want to Speak.

Listening is the key to being able to speak. Many students try to talk all the time and never really move beyond the level they are at. This is because, to improve your Spanish you must listen well.

Remember: We have ONE MOUTH and TWO EARS and we should use them in that ratio when learning Spanish.


Gracias de Gordon y Cynthia. 🙂

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Advanced Intermediate Spanish Podcast 21 – Saber Conocer & Decir in Preterite

data scaleSaber, Conocer and Decir in Preterite Past.

These three verbs are surely some of the more interesting Spanish verbs because of the additional complications they pose to English speaking students. The fact that Saber and Conocer both mean To Know and yet those ‘knowings’ are most often very different makes learning them an interesting process.

To add insult to injury, once they move into the past they become even more complex and their meanings change yet again.

Some interesting question are:

Which verb and  tense do we use if we want to say: “I knew it.”?

How would I say: ” I knew her when I was in school.”?

What about: “I found out the truth yesterday.”?

and finally:

“Where did you meet your wife?”

If you already know how to say these sentences in Spanish then we would say to you: “Enhorabuena.”

However, if you have any doubts then this is the ideal podcast for you to listen to.


Decir in Preterite and Imperfect Past.

Now, let’s discuss some of the more important aspects of the verb “to say”. The reality is that this verb is one, if not the most important verb that any serious student of Spanish should “dominar” totally.


Think about the conversations you have in your own language. How many times do you find yourself telling someone about a conversation you had earlier.

“Well, I said to him that…..And he said to me that… then he said that his sister had said that….”

In our own language we sail through sentences without even noticing the complexity of the structures we are using. Yet, once you are in your second, third or whatever language, suddenly things start to get a little more difficult.

It’s for that reason that you should truly have Decir in Preterite and Imperfect past completely under control.

To begin with, Decir in Preterite is irregular and must be learnt apart from the usual preterite structure. That said, it’s used so often that very soon you’ll have it learnt by heart.

If you have any doubts about how to translate the following sentences, then this is the podcast to listen to.

I said to her that…

She said to me that…

I told her it…

Did you tell him?

Clearly, not everything can be covered in a ten minute podcast and for that reason we back up all of our podcasts with a fully comprehensive Helpsheet and Transcription designed with you in mind.  The helsheets are filled with helpful and current examples of how these verbs are used and then are backed up by some tests to check your understanding.

We hope you find them useful in your learning journey.


Gordon y Cynthia 🙂


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Advanced Intermediate Spanish Podcast 22 – The Mediterranean Diet

paellaThe Mediterranean Diet is renown throughout the world not only for its delicious dishes but also for its health benefits.

In this podcast we hear from Mercedes, la madre de Cynthia y de Maribel, su tía, who talk us through what they perceive as the typical Mediterranean diet.

The challenge in this podcast is understanding just exactly what it is they are saying. Normally, at this level you have been listening to Cynthia and I. You have probably become accustomed to our voices and the expressions we use.

Now we have two new people with different voice tones and new idiomatic expressions. For this reason, it’s worthwhile suggesting that you have a number of attempts at this one.

Listen to it at least three times unless, of course, you captured everything beforehand. Fortunately, both Mercedes and Maribel speak very clearly and at a moderate speed and so you should find it fairly straightforward to capture the idea of what they are saying.

Both Mercedes and Maribel are wives and mothers and have spent many years preparing a wide range of food for their families. Because of this fact, they can be classed as experts on the subject of what we know as the Mediterranean Diet.

In Spain, within the  dynamic of the family, it falls upon the woman of the house to prepare the food. Adding to that the fact that food is probably the most important past time in Spain, then it falls upon the woman of the house to ensure she is able to prepare a wide gamut of tasty food for her family.

One of the things that I personally have noted about a typical meal with our family in Spain is that there are always many different flavours and varieties of food.  The table is littered with various types of salad, vegetables and a range of tastes that far exceed anything that I have experienced here in the U.K.

The other interesting part of eating in Spain is that there always seems to be far too much food (and there is) for the amount of people at the table.  Once the meal is done then all the surplus food goes back into the fridge to be eaten later.

Probably, the biggest fear that any Spanish mother has is that there isn’t enough food to go around.  So important is it to eat heartily in Spain that you can almost guarantee that if you opened any fridge in Spain it would be loaded up with Tupperware filled with the left overs from meals earlier in the week.

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Advanced Intermediate Spanish Podcast 23 – Spanish Commands

decide scaleSpanish Commands

The Imperative tense is a widely and oft used tense in all Spanish speaking countries. If you learn to use it well then you will find people will respond positively to your requests. However, like all tenses, if you use it badly then it could work against you.

Here in the UK and in many English speaking countries the imperative is used a lot less than you will find it used in Spanish speaking countries. Certainly in England it tends to be used along with copious amounts of pleases and thank yous.

This is less the case with Spanish Commands. The reason for that is that there is a certain amount of politeness already built into them. You can tell someone to sit using an informal tone, or, if needed, you can tell them to sit whilst remaining very formal.

Siéntate = Sit down (my friend/family member TÚ)

Siéntese = Sit down (stranger/elderly person/not my friend/someone I want to respect USTED)

It’s for this reason that it’s best to have this tense fairly clear in your mind before you start running around telling people what to do in Spanish.

I recall moving to Mexico and starting to work in my company’s new factory in Aguascalientes. I had only six months of Spanish classes (self taught, too) behind me and without doubt I must have made a mountain of mistakes, especially when I was trying to get people to do what I wanted them to do.

What was even more impactful was that it was there that I first came across the Spanish Commands. Before, whilst I worked in Morocco, the people in my factories talked to me with lots of pleases and thank yous and they called me Monsieur Gordon (lol).

Then, I arrived at the factory in Mexico and discovered that my name meant ‘Fat man’ which was a blow. Then, I found people were saying to me things like: ¡VEN! = Come here, without even a please!

For the first few times I made them say: VEN, POR FAVOR but after a while I gave up and accepted that the Spanish commands were just a normal part of their spoken Spanish.

In this Video podcast we help you with this rather troublesome but vitally important tense so that you can use it with confidence and not be shocked when Spanish people start ordering you around. lol

All of our podcasts are backed up by comprehensive helpsheets and transcriptions of any spoken Spanish to provide you with the best learning experience possible.

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El Aula – Spanish Preterite and Imperfect When to Use Them (2 of 3)

date scale aula pret imperfHow do I know when to use the Spanish Preterite and Imperfect?

This is probably one of the most asked questions by every student of the Spanish language that is faced with the daunting task of talking in the past.

One of the hurdles that everyone has to overcome, no matter which part of Spanish grammar they are studying, is that usually these kind of questions have no short answer.

Normally, we are loaded down by a whole host of rules and regulations that we have to consider before we can even get a word out of our mouths.

Native speakers have it easy.

Native Spanish speakers do not have this problem. In fact, they are blissfully ignorant of all of the rules we have to learn to enable us to get it right. That’s because they have learnt by ear, which is how we learnt our own maternal language.

We, sadly, don’t have that luxury and are obliged to mechanically work through the rights and wrongs without the benefit of being able to say: It just sounds right. or That sounds terrible.

What I have aimed to do in this podcast is to distil all of these rules into a simplistic way of thinking that, if used correctly, will allow you to get it right at least 8 times out of 10.

Just like all learning, the more you study and listen to native speakers talk, the easier it will be to simply go with your intuition when it comes to choosing the between the Spanish preterite and imperfect.

Time and effort sorts everything out for you. However, in the mean time, by watching this video or listening to this podcast a good few times, it will give you the foundation you need to steer you in the right direction and will allow you to build on a solid understanding.

How do I clear up my confusions?

I’ve always found that when I am confused about a particular grammar point, I make mistake after mistake without ever understanding why or knowing if I have it right or not.

The answer, for me, has always been to ask, read up on it, use the Internet, go on a chat room and ask someone, ask my teacher or anything else that might help me clear the confusion up.

This is one of the great benefits of one to one classes. We have seen so many of our students really begin to surge forward once they begin one to one classes with us on Skype.

Be careful who you ask!

If you are able to, we suggest that you find a teacher to help you. Be careful not to ask people who have no idea of their own grammar rules (this is the majority…so beware). I did this a lot and it caused me even more confusion.

We hope this podcast helps you in your learning journey.

Gordon 🙂

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