Do I have to understand every word I hear?

One fear that many students new to a language have is that if they don’t understand every word they hear, then something is wrong.  Actually, you are not supposed to understand every word you hear. In fact, if you are getting between 50% and 70% of every word you’re doing quite well for a beginner. No beginner hears and understands everything. Here are some tips.

1. Try and find the “big words” in what you hear. The big words are the ones that help you get the most meaning. Little words will come later. In short, learn to let go at the beginning.

2. Some times, getting the “big words” means getting a whole phrase without knowing all the individual words that make up the phrase. For example, knowing that ¿Cómo te llamas? means that someone is asking your name is all you need to know right now. You don’t need to know at this point what cómo means, what te means, and what llamas means. You will get these parts later.

3.  Guess as best you can and “fill in the blanks” using what you already know. You’d be surprised at how good a guesser you can be. This means you need to rely on context and situation to help you.

And above all, remember that we will not test you on what you can’t do at a given point. Your instructor will help you figure out what’s important and what isn’t.

In short, listening takes time to develop, and it evolves over time like any skill.