If you have ever purchased a typical Spanish book, or taken a Spanish course in college or high school, then you probably spent 90% of your time focused on vocabulary and grammar and less than 10% - if any - actually hearing and speaking Spanish out loud.
You probably even thought that this made sense - you have to learn lots of words before you start learning how to speak, right?
The truth is you need relatively few words to be able to get through a typical Spanish conversation. Based on an analysis of the frequency distribution of words in Spanish, a person with a vocabulary of only 1000 words would be able to recognize about 88% of the Spanish used in everyday conversation.
In fact, if you learned only the 600 most commonly used words, you would be able to understand about 80-85% of the words in spoken Spanish - enough to get through most basic conversations.
The real problem for most beginner to intermediate Spanish learners is that there is a significant gap between their "paper" vocabulary - the number of words they can recognize on paper - and their ability to understand the same words in real-time spoken conversation.
To see what we mean, try the following exercise from our conversational Spanish course One Month Spanish.
The audio clip below contains a short dialogue between a man and the bellhop at his hotel. Most of the words used in the dialogue should be familiar to students who know a modest amount of Spanish vocabulary.
Listen to the clip below and see how well you can understand the discussion.
Note: Be sure to listen to the audio before reading the transcript that follows.