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by Erica Fischer on Mar 10, 2011

Improving Your Students’ Comprehension of Native Speakers

Hello everyone and welcome back to #langchat!

This past Thursday’s discussion led us through a challenging topic in language education—listening strategies that improve comprehension of native speakers. Even some of the most fluent speakers can still have trouble with this, so how do we best nurture our students’ comprehension?

Participants shared many awesome ideas that will make listening comprehension in your classroom easy and fun. Thanks to Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach) for moderating this chat!

Challenges of Understanding Native Speakers

While students may be accustomed to broken-up sentences, clear enunciation, and visual aids, it can be difficult for them to adjust to native speech. Throw in dialects and slang, and your students may begin to feel it’s useless!

Once the students get frustrated, they might want to stop listening and stop learning. Material for teaching comprehension of native speakers needs to be chosen carefully, and it’s important that teachers keep the atmosphere positive and encouraging.

Activities to Improve Listening Comprehension

While all of our participants offered excellent strategies and activities, repetition seemed to be the unifying idea. Many of our educators suggested working on listening comprehension every day with a song, videos, or other audio material. Hearing native speech regularly will help students to better comprehend native sounds and expressions.

You can find a collection of some suggested activities and strategies below.

Using News Clips:

  • @NinaTanti1 suggests using news from the Internet but also points out that using news can be too difficult for beginners. Other participants recommend breaking the news down into just one chunk and replaying it.
  • @maestrachevre suggests playing weather and traffic reports from the radio.
  • @CalicoTeach likes to discuss a popular topic then show news of interest to the students.

Focus on Keywords:

  • @fravan tells their students to just relax! Focus on what you do understand instead of the things you don’t. This participant also says it takes a lot of practice, “like free throws in basketball.”
  • @CalicoTeach encourages students to find “anchor words” and get the gist of the topic.
  • @fravan recommends a fun activity for beginners. In partners, each group of students gets a sheet of paper with words on it, and each student gets a different color marker. Then they circle the words they hear. This can also be a competitive game!

Other Ideas & Listening Strategies:

  • @melindamlarson says her students take time to Skype with native speakers as well as alumni abroad. Speaking with other students at a similar age may inspire them!
  • @paulinobrener suggests looking for parents who are native speakers and asking them to visit. Parents could even talk about a theme students will be interested in such as actors/actresses, school, or current fads in the native country.
  • Several of our educators agreed that having native speakers in class could be discouraging to students, while @pamwesley adds any native-speaking activity should be contextualized properly, so the students can understand and feel accomplished.
  • Others also agreed with @CalicoTeach, who wants the students to be able to understand anyone whether they are native or not.

Online Tools for Listening Comprehension

Several participants mentioned online resources as well for further material. These tools can be especially helpful because they are easily accessible and can also be used by students outside of class.

@usamimi74 shared her preferred free website, ielanguages, where free language lessons and tutorials for 17 languages can be found.

@SECottrell uses UN Radio to practice speaking and listening with scripts and audio files.

@paulinobrener also offered himself as a resource for those teachers with students who have written short stories and would like them read by a Spanish native speaker. Those interested can contact him here.

Final Thoughts

In all classes, students’ comprehension of native speech should be approached with sensitivity and encouragement. While watching a movie or listening to a podcast makes excellent practice, nothing beats holding a face-to-face conversation with a native speaker!


A big thank you to all of our participants in this Thursday’s chat! We shared tons of creative, helpful suggestions and support, and we’re reminded that we all struggle with native speech every now and then.

If you’d like to see the full archive of the chat, feel free to check out our Google Docs page. See you next week!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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