Picture this. You’re planning a 6-week trip to Central America; it’ll be the experience of a lifetime. You want to be ready, you need to learn Spanish. After all, it’s the perfect opportunity to practice. After several weeks of studying, you’re starting to feel quite comfortable with the language. You understand a lot of what you read and you can easily shape several sentences in your mind. You start to imagine those first conversations in the rain forests of Costa Rica where everything goes as planned. All that study time will finally pay off. But when you finally do get to your destination and speak to native speakers for the first time, you can’t understand much at all!
Native speaker: “Shleedish Boudaka Tewupa!”
Surprised you: “What’s going on? This doesn’t sound like anything I’ve learned.”
This can feel like a real slap in the face. It can happen if you haven’t familiarized yourself enough to the way native speakers use the language. Luckily, there are several ways you can avoid this deceptive experience. No worries, all that hard work is not in vain; you just need to adapt. In this post, we will talk about how you can train your ear to the native way of speaking by listening to radio, podcasts and stand-up comedy.
Talking to real people on the street is way up there in the grand language-learning difficulty scale. The problem is that, while obviously essential for learning, you might have been exposed to too much exceptionally well-pronounced recordings. When you are first learning a language, it is crucial to learn with material that is slow and clearly enunciated, otherwise you’ll drown and likely give up. But the truth is that people have all kinds of different accents. Plus, they often use unfamiliar local expressions and don’t always articulate very well. In a previous post, we talked about listening to audiobooks because they usually have proper diction and clear enunciation, which is ideal for learning. We also recommend listening to radio, podcasts and stand-up comedy for the exact opposite reasons; fast speech, bad diction and lots of mumbling.
Listening to radio and podcasts can be a nice stepping stone to get used to the speed of the language. Talk show hosts often have a good voice, but they usually talk similar to regular folks. Radio can be an excellent tool if you want to become familiar with a particular accent or dialect. Depending on the region of the show, you will hear certain accents and learn tons of local expressions. You can listen to radio stations from all over the world directly from your web browser or mobile app. A quick Google search will allow you to easily find multiple stations that may interest you. Alternatively, you can also download and listen to podcasts through your device. There are tons of different sources out there, simply choose a topic that meets your field of interest.
Another major advantage of listening to radio stations is the immersive and cultural aspect. You’ll hear the local news, laugh at some jokes and interactions, discover amazing events, but also perceive the area’s social and political issues. It can be a truly enriching experience. You can also familiarize yourself with native speakers by listening to stand-up comedy. You’ll come upon all sorts of original jokes and unique humor from the comedians. Sure, it may be hard to understand the jokes at times because of all the cultural references, but it can be a very positive and effective way to learn once you reach a certain level.
If you are just getting started however, we recommend sticking to material that is clear and easy to understand. Listening to foreign radio, podcasts and stand-up comedy requires a strong foundation before it can be truly effective. But as you get more advanced, you’ll eventually need to increase the difficulty of what you listen to in order to comfortably understand native material. You should always try to choose material that is slightly above your current skill level. Challenging yourself is the best way to avoid hitting plateaus in language learning. Finding that perfect balance between feeling comfortable and duly challenged is one of the best ways to make sure you always improve.
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