Learning to Survive in Group Conversations

CapslockEngaged us United States
I am at a point in Spanish where one on one with a native speaker, we can communicate fine. Occasionally they may need to slow down, I struggle for a word, or they have to rephrase something, but I have friends that speak only Spanish (no English) and we don't have much trouble communicating. My biggest problem is in groups of native speakers. At any point in the conversation I can say what they are talking about and that is just about it. I don't feel comfortable adding any of my own input because it moves too quickly and the conversation isn't at all on my terms like it is 1 on 1. They also aren't always speaking directly at me, which makes hearing a little more challenging, plus it is full speed and full of slang.

Any tips for these situations besides just experiencing them as much as possible? I'm going somewhere tonight where I will be the only English speaker, so I guess I can see how it goes.
July 2014
  • [donhamiltontx] aw Aruba
    Your Progress Snapshot shows you know 5,806 words, read 33,736 words, and listened 3.2 hours to Spanish. If memory serves, you live in Ecuador, so the number of hours listened is probably substantially more than 3.2 hours. But if those numbers, or just the first two numbers, reflect reality, you are to be commended for understanding much of any conversation at all.
    No one can predict with any degree of accuracy what numbers you will need to have in order to understand group conversations spoken at normal speed (and no doubt with at least a modicum of slang), but I would venture to guess your known words and words read need to at least quadruple in order for you to feel more comfortable in native conversation.
    In sum, keep doing what you are doing for learning Spanish but expect progress to be slow. And as you say, keep experiencing conversations as much as you can.
    July 2014
  • Paule89 ca Canada
    "I don't feel comfortable adding any of my own input because it moves too quickly and the conversation isn't at all on my terms like it is 1 on 1."

    I often feel like that even when the conversation is in my native language.^^
    How about you?

    "They also aren't always speaking directly at me, which makes hearing a little more challenging, plus it is full speed and full of slang. Any tips for these situations besides just experiencing them as much as possible?"

    I think you could "practice" these situations by listening to material that´s "at full speed and full of slang" like TV-shows, radio shows, youtube discussions and whatnot.

    July 2014
  • CapslockEngaged us United States
    @donhamiltontx Right now that isn't a good reflection of how many words I know. I haven't been using LingQ long enough to fill out the statistics. If a lesson is 10 minutes of audio, I might LingQ 10 words and mark 150 as known. I need to keep better track of everything (I find something rather satisfying about that), but I heard probably 8-9 hours of Spanish just yesterday, after spending about 5 hours out with friends, time in a restaurant, and listening on LingQ/Youtube vids in the morning. The word count will fill out very quickly as I have been using LingQ a lot the past week. I used LingQ lightly about a year ago, but I was never subbed, which heavily limits the number of LingQ's you can use, so I didn't use it very much. Right now I am still marking the vast majority of blue words as known.
    July 2014
  • Paule89 ca Canada
    PS: Maybe you could simulate talking in a noisy environment by...well...adding noise to your practice sessions. Like playing this video in the background while listening to a lesson on LingQ http://youtu.be/XzsBWz12AfQ
    July 2014
  • CapslockEngaged us United States
    @Paule89 That is a good idea, the background noise can be very problematic with the people that aren't seated very close to me.
    July 2014
  • [donhamiltontx] aw Aruba
    Hmm, that is a good idea, Paul. Maybe dubbing noise over a practice lesson would work, too.

    I searched on "background noise" on Youtube and got several options to choose from: "Busy Restaurant" is one in English (I think it's in English):
    (10:48). There are apps to extract sound only from a video, which could be laid down over a lesson. Too much trouble, maybe.

    Er, naturally this would be for private lessons only.

    Edited to add the background noise video link.
    Edited to add a disclaimer.
    July 2014
  • jreidy us United States
    @donhamiltontx. For my private use of course, I would be interested in extracting sound from Korean dramas. What are some of the apps I could look into?
    July 2014
  • [donhamiltontx] aw Aruba
    @jreidy "What are some of the apps I could look into?"

    Disclaimer: I don't do many extractions of sound from video. I think I used VLC once or twice. I would go with VLC or Audacity. There is a list of more apps that do the job here, but more importantly, the page has a useful if not in-depth discussion of some how to's:


    Both Audacity and VLC work in Windows, Macs and Linux. Audacity has the capacity to dub as well (I think), but I've never tried to use it for that purpose.

    If you give it a go, do let us know how it works.

    July 2014
  • zbrntt tr Turkey
    I really identify with CapslockEngaged's problem. This is a really frustrating level to be at: being able to function moderately well in one-to-one situations but losing the thread in group conversations and while watching TV and films.

    Recently I've given some thought to this problem and how to solve it. Here are my ideas, but maybe some other people here have some more suggestions?

    1) I need to improve my vocabulary. Reading a contemporary trash fiction novel has shown me that my base vocabulary is quite poor. This means that 'getting by' on a day-to-day level is misleading: I thought I knew plenty of words, but in fact I just know simple words that I use over and over. There are lots of other words that are really quite common but outside my vocabulary.

    2) Well, obviously I need to listen more :). My stumbling block so far has been that there aren't a lot of quality resources out there with both audio and transcripts in my target language (Turkish). This week I decided to get over that by not insisting on the transcript. I've found some short educational videos on topics that interest me, and I'm planning to work through those as starters.

    Any other ideas from people who've busted CapslockEngaged's particular barrier?
    July 2014
  • Administrator
    steve ca Canada
    It is always more difficult in group situations. Even if you understand what is said, which is not always the case, you feel pressured to speak, as if you are afraid you will be interrupted before you finish, or because you can't organize your thoughts as fast as the native speakers.

    Solution: just expose yourself to more and more of this kind of situation and take satisfaction from what you are able to understand and say. Speak up where you can. People are usually not bothered by your hesitancy or slow speech any more than you would be if you were with a group of native English speakers and you had a non native speaker with you.
    July 2014
  • RedExodus us United States
    I've heard of a trick for group conversations where you listen to content at slightly lower volumes than you're used to and continue winding it down until you can hear conversations that are barely audible to other people. Then when you turn it back to full volume, everything becomes clear. It also helps a lot to just listen to content with a lot of people talking.
    August 2014