Spanish is too FAST? Here are some tips to understand fast Spanish

Spanish is too FAST? How to understand Fast Spanish

Maura, yo entiendo todo lo que leo y puedo hablar sin problema. Pero todavía me cuesta mucho escuchar, ¡porque el español es demasiado rápido! ¿Qué hago?
(Maura, I understand everything I read and I can speak without a problem. But I still have a hard time listening because Spanish is too fast! What do I do?)

Te entiendo. Claramente, la mejor estrategia es seguir practicando. Pero puedo ayudarte a entender qué pasa con el español cuando es rápido. Así sabrás en qué fijarte.
(I understand. Clearly, the best strategy is to keep practicing. But I can help you understand what happens to Spanish when it’s fast. Then you’ll know what to look out for.)

Alex’s complain is one we get all the time. And like I said, I understand. I’m Maura from Spring Spanish, and in this video, we’ll cover the different aspects that come into play when you’re struggling to understand fast Spanish.


1. Focus on chunks to understand fast Spanish

Para empezar, es muy importante que no intentes entender cada palabra por separado.
(To begin with, it is very important that you do not try to understand each word separately.)

O sea, busco los “chunks.”
(So, I look for the “chunks”.)

Jaja, sí. Mientras más asociaciones tengas, más fácil será deducir el resto.
(Haha, yes. The more associations you have, the easier it will be to deduct the rest.)

Vale, entonces es como enfocarse en el mensaje general.
(Okay, so it’s like focusing on the overall message.)

Casi, casi, sí.
(More or less, yes.)

What we’re going for here is trying to imitate what happens to you in your native language. When you’re buying groceries and they ask: do you need a bag?, you don’t really hear each word separately. The context, its association with certain chunks, and the word “bag” are more than enough.

Same with Spanish.

Pero, ¿cómo hago para saber qué chunks podría escuchar en cada momento?
(But, how do I know which chunks I could listen to at any given moment?)

Estudia, practica y prepárate.
(Study, practice, and prepare.)

You don’t need to know everything about Spanish. Look at children in their native languages. They only work with the part of the language that applies to them. Same thing with you, so:

  • Identify what you need from Spanish: are you learning Spanish for work, for traveling, to communicate with someone specifically?
  • Start with that part of the language and the chunks that it most commonly includes.
  • Use those chunks: The more you use them yourself, the more detectable they become no matter who says it.

Chunk Alert!

Did you know that “casi, casi” (almost, almost) can work as a synonym for “mas o menos” (more or less)? Now you do. Use it just the same, like:

  • La comida está casi, casi lista. (The food is almost, almost ready.)
  • Estoy casi, casi clara, pero necesito entender un par de cosas más. (I’m almost, almost clear, but I need to understand a couple more things.)

Now, I hope everyone watching has already gotten their free Essential Spanish Chunking kit through the link in the description. If you haven’t, I don’t want to hear no “casi, casi” (almost, almost). Go get it!

✔️ Cheat Sheet with 54 essential Spanish Chunks you’ll hear and use yourself in ANY Spanish conversation (and example sentences). Taken from our YouTube Teacher’s most popular videos!

✔️ 2 Bonus Cheat Sheets with Travel Chunks and Dating/Relationship Chunks

✔️ A Spanish Chunking Tutorial showing you the 1 technique that’ll help you make 100% of the Spanish from our videos roll off the tongue in just 5 minutes a day (you’re probably only using 50% of our lessons’ potential right now…)

2. Understand the most common contractions and omissions to learn Spanish quickly

Otra parte muy importante es entender desde ya qué sonidos se juntan.
(Another very important part is to understand from the beginning what sounds come together.)

¿Como “los ojos”?
(Like “the eyes”?)

¡Exacto! Naturalmente eso suele sonar todo junto.
(Exactly! Naturally that usually sounds all together.)

¡Sí! “Losojos”
(Yes! “Theeyes”.)

Tal cual. Sólo lo separaríamos si estamos enfatizando.
(Exactly. We would only separate it if we are emphasizing.)

I’ll give you my best tips to understand fast Spanish at the end, but first, let’s concentrate on contractions.

Just like it happens in English, if a word ends in a consonant and the next word starts with a vowel, they will usually stick together, like:

  • Mi novio le tiene miedo a las alturas. (My boyfriend is afraid of heights.): two vowels together, like “miedo a” will always sound together as well.
  • No sé por qué tus hermanos no comen arroz. (I don’t know why your brothers don’t eat rice.): remember the “h” is mute in Spanish, so “hermanos” starts with a vowel sound too.
  • Es un tipo bien cerebral y amable. (He’s a very cerebral and nice guy.): Cerebral y amable. (Cerebral and nice.)

Notice that the most common consonants that end words in Spanish are:

  • D: humildad, felicidad, caridad (humility, happiness, charity)
    • La humildad a veces cansa. (Humility is sometimes tiring.)
  • N: quieren, vienen, saben (they want, they come, they know)
    • Ellos vienen antes para ayudar a cocinar. (They come earlier to help with the cooking.)
  • S: buscas, carros, frutas (you look for, cars, fruits): all plurals, really.
    • Las frutas están dañadas. (The fruits are damaged.)
  • L: tal, cual, cerebral (such, which, cerebral)
    • ¿Cuál es tu nombre? (What is your name?): know that there’s virtually no difference in sound between the singular “cuál es” and the plural “cuáles”. The only thing is the emphasis. “Cuál es” and “cuáles”.
  • R: triturar, vacilar, pensar (to grind, to hesitate, to think)
    • Pensar antes de actuar es buena idea. (Thinking before acting is a good idea.)
  • Z: voz, veloz, precoz (voice, quick, precocious)
    • Qué niña tan precoz y avispada. (What a precocious and clever child.)

También tienes que tener en cuenta que ciertos sonidos pueden omitirse.
(Also note that certain sounds may be omitted.)

Pero, ¿se omiten si la persona habla mal? ¿O es correcto?
(But, are they omitted if the person speaks badly? Or is that correct?)

Esto ya depende más del acento y la persona en sí. Oralmente no tiene nada de malo. Sólo no vayas a escribirlo. A menos que sean mensajes de texto, claro.
(This depends more on the accent and the person themselves. Orally there is nothing wrong with it. Just don’t write it down. Unless they are text messages, of course.)

The most common sounds we’ll omit are:

Omitting “s” at the end of the word

I’m calling this an omission because I understand and respect that is how it sounds to most of you.

Now, allow me to make a necessary clarification.

In MOST cases, there’s no actual omission. It’s a change in pronunciation that happens very naturally in most Spanish-speaking countries.

It’s more of a language thing than an accent thing.

Here’s a little experiment for you to compare:

  • Las cajas están abajo. (The boxes are downstairs.): In my most natural accent and speed I would say:
    • a: I’m breathing in the “s” and it sounds like a “j” in Spanish. Or an “h” in English. There’s no omission. If I actually omitted the “s”, this is how it would sound:
    • Las cajas están abajo. (The boxes are downstairs.): this will hardly happen. Even countries like Puerto Rico o República Dominicana would probably omit one of those “s”, but not all. Most Spanish speakers do what I do and inhale the “s” to some degree.

Omitting “d” at the end of the word

Can you guess what’s about to happen? Again, no real omission, most of the time.

“D” is a soft sound in Spanish. Very rarely we pronounce “d” like in English. So, if you find it at the end of words, it’ll sound even softer, like:

  • La caridad es importante. (Charity is important.): let’s compare.
    • La caridad es importante. (Charity is important.): small “d”, inhaled “s”.
    • Actual omission: La caridad es importante. (Charity is important.) With “d” is more likely you’ll find people who actually omit it. Again, mostly in Caribbean countries like Cuba, República Dominicana, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. To be honest, that “d” is a rather irrelevant sound at the end of words.
  • “Para” becomes “pa’”: this does happen all the time. Yo puedo decirla o no decirla. (I can say it or not say it.) Other countries mostly say it and others mostly don’t. Like:
    • Uno pa’ ti y uno pa’ mí. (One for you and one for me.)

3. Pronunciations that change depending on where they speak Spanish

Otra cosa que va a ayudarte un montón es familiarizarte con los distintos tipos de español.
(Another thing that will help you a lot is to familiarize yourself with the different types of Spanish.)

Eso me da nervios. Hay muchos sitios que pronuncian todo distinto.
(That makes me nervous. There are a lot of places that pronounce everything differently.)

En realidad no son tantos y no son tantos sonidos.
(In reality there are not so many and they are not so many sounds.)

¿En serio? ¿Cómo es entonces?
(Really? How is it then?)

The ones that will make the biggest difference are:

  • Argentina and Uruguay: “LL” and “Y” sound like “sh” in English. So, they say:
    • Ya te llamo. (I’ll call you soon.): If this use of “ya” (already) throws you off a bit, I got you. In this video I explained almost everything ya can do in Spanish. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot!
    • Yo creo que va a llover. (I think it’s going to rain.)
  • Puerto Rico might swap “R” and “L” in the middle of the word. Fisherman and natives from Margarita, the island where I’m from, will do this too. And, certain people in Andalucía, España as well. Things like:
    • Puerto Rico
    • Hijo de mi alma. (Son of my soul.)
  • Puerto Rico can also drag the “rr” sound, like French. So you could hear:
    • Arrastrar la “r” (To drag the “r”)
    • Las gacelas corren súper rápido. (Gazelles run super fast.)
  • España has its own pronunciation for the “s” and another one for both “c” and “z”. We don’t do this in Latin America. It’s not that hard. Think of the “s” as having more air, like:
    • En España la “s” suena distinto. (In Spain the “s” sounds different.)

And the “c” and “z” sound like “th” in English. Things like:

  • Los zapatos están sucios. (The shoes are dirty.)

4. Tips and ideas for you to practice fast Spanish understanding

Now, Juan did make this video solely focus on tips to understand native speakers. But, in the meantime, here’s a little list of things you could and should do to support you in listening to fast Spanish.

  • Practice A LOT listening to Spanish. Especially important that they are different speakers, different resources.
  • Don’t listen to slowed down Spanish: Manage the difficulty by subjects, grammatical complexity, and vocabulary, rather than by speed. Also watch this video where Juan explains all this in depth.
  • Do not neglect learning new vocabulary. This is a rather simply thing that can have major impact on your listening skills.
  • When you can’t understand something because it’s too fast, deconstruct it, like:
    • Listen to it several times.
    • Read a transcript or use subtitles.
    • Check the translation.
    • Repeat until you understand everything.
    • Do this with many different resources.

I really hope this empowers you to keep fighting to understand our beautiful, fast and multicolored language. Not long ago I made a video about Spanish being a fast language where you can test your own speed. Click the image on the video and let me know how you did!

¡Nos vemos allá!

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