Spanish is a magnificent language that is spoken by over 500 million native speakers across the world.
We all know that the Spanish language is quite close to Italian and even French. But as a general rule, it is one of the easiest to learn for Americans too as Spanish shares common roots with English.
All the same, training in a new language cannot be done in a day: it requires time, personal investment, devotion, and basic knowledge of Spanish grammar, syntax, spelling, and everyday vocabulary.
But the most important thing in learning to speak Spanish, is to be able express yourself verbally (and on paper). After all, Spanish is an amazing and dynamic “living” language, so students must “live” it in conversations.
But how can you succeed at holding a conversation in Spanish with a native speaker when you don’t know much, when your vocabulary is limited, and when you are nervous at the prospect of making mistakes?
Here are 5 tricks that will help you get out of these sticky situations, and improve your conversational Spanish!
Being capable of communicating in Spanish with a native speaker is essential in your language learning. To be able to make an appointment or simply chat with a friend, you’ll need a basic Spanish vocabulary to “wing it.”
It’s helpful to have some key phrases and expressions that you can use in your spoken Spanish, so you don’t always need to carry your flashcards or English-Spanish dictionary around!
Be your own Spanish teacher! A few key phrases will be enough to communicate and converse in Castilian. You can do it while having fun and even without taking the traditional Spanish course route.
Everyone knows that learning a foreign language in a few weeks or months is almost impossible. So no one will find fault with you if you make mistakes (with Spanish vocabulary, conjugation, grammar, etc.), especially native speakers.
So our first piece of advice in learning how to speak Spanish, is to admit your limits and your difficulties.
Of course, it’s always frustrating to not know how to express what you want to say in Spanish, so sometimes you have to show humility and admit when you are having difficulties. When conversing with a Spanish speaker, don’t risk not being understood or hurting your self-confidence.
Maybe it’s a bit too soon to read Don Quixote in Spanish?
In identifying what you know, what you’d like to learn and what you don’t know, you’ll focus your training, and you’ll become more efficient in your Spanish learning.
In learning how to speak Spanish, just like any other training, there are highs and lows. Every beginner goes through periods where you have the impression of absorbing everything quickly and other more frustrating moments where you think you are slowing down, or even no longer capable of learning.
For both absolute beginners and those with an intermediate level, these phases are natural and you have to accept them. Know that you will always make progress if you can regularly assess what you know already and what is still left to learn in the Spanish language.
This way you’ll make an adjustment on your knowledge of Spanish verbs, adjectives, and tenses, or comprehension of everyday Spanish speaking, for example.
Taking Spanish classes and speaking a language that isn’t your maternal tongue implies that you will make errors. Sometimes the best solution for the learner is to become immersed in the language and culture, by listening to Spanish podcasts for example.
Whether it’s for a lack of Spanish words or vocabulary, for grammatical and conjugation errors, or for weak syntax, there is always something we can improve upon when we learn a new language. So reassure yourself that this is completely normal in your path to fluency in Spanish!
The important thing is not as much the manner and accuracy with which you express yourself, but the content itself. If you travel to Latin America or Spain passing through the any number of incredible cities such as Ceuta, Barcelona, Santander and Madrid, you will discover that there exists a hundred and one ways of making yourself understood.
Do not worry about linguistic errors if your speaking partner can understand you nonetheless: this shows that you can get the message across with success in Spanish.
With experience, a good Spanish dictionary and practice in a Spanish course (free lessons or in a traditional Spanish school) and you can improve your Spanish conversation, vocabulary, inflexions, tonic Spanish accents, verb conjugation, etc.
Make yourself understood in Spanish!
If you are not able to say one particular word, try to find its equivalent or synonym, or describe it with action verbs like “take,” “make,” “go,” etc.
It’s also helpful to learn useful phrases in the Spanish language such as “How do you say XX in Spanish?” or “What is the word for YY?” And don’t hesitate to ask your speaking partner, “what does this word mean?”
On the one hand, you show an interest in your conversation, which will please the person with whom you’re speaking. On the other hand, for you, it will allow you to learn new vocabulary, discover diverse sentence structures, and maybe even learn more informal vocabulary and slang words (the things you won’t find on a Spanish test or quizzes!).
Whether your speaking partner is your Spanish instructor or a native Spanish speaker, always ask about what you don’t know and see if he or she can help you correct errors (at least the most important ones).
Lastly, it is possible to annoy or frustrate your speaking partner inadvertently, so don’t wait to excuse yourself and explain yourself. If you see him or her laughing or looking confused, say something to clarify things as fast as possible. You can say “Please excuse me, I am American, I don’t speak Spanish well. But I am trying to learn.”
When you are in front of your speaking partner, don’t hesitate to tell him or her what you are feeling. Instead of taking the risk of being misunderstood, or even angering the person in front of you, it’s preferable to admit that you are having difficulty speaking Spanish fluidly and comprehensibly. It’s showing an act of courage and recognition of your limits: your speaking partner will surely be touched by this truth and will go easy on you.
The rest is simple: why not learn Spanish with YouTube videos? Videos are great because you can hear the words pronounced by a native speaker in many cases. This gives you a true picture of Spanish vocabulary that you won’t get in your Spanish class textbook. Instead of learning conjugation on paper, listen to how correct verb usage sounds with your own ears!
Because they are unlimited, videos allow you to learn Spanish online at your personal rhythm: when you wake up, in the car, while you eat lunch or exercise, or at night before sleeping… On YouTube, you can benefit from Spanish tutorials (made by Spanish language teachers, native Spanish speakers and Spanish enthusiasts) and find free Spanish lessons and exercises.
The choice of Spanish online videos seems almost infinite: with over one billion internet users that access YouTube every day – and who also post videos – it is impossible to quantify the number. Some examples include PolyglotPablo, 123TeachMe, Why Not Spanish, Maria Espanol, Spanish101pod.com, Learn Spanish with Paulino, Professor Jason, ProSpanish, and a personal favorite, Tu escuela de español!
While we are on the subject, Sleep learning is a very unique channel that proposes to teach Spanish while you sleep! You listen as you are falling asleep and leave it on while you sleep. The video below lasts for three hours and plays multiple dialogues of typical everyday Spanish conversation, so that you identify Spanish words used in conversation. It uses three binaural beats to 1. Enhance learning ability, 2. Initiate sleep learning 3. Improve memory.
Don’t forget that the most important thing is not to say things perfectly, but to communicate your message. By showing your limits while asking for help, you can be assured to always learn something new in Spanish.
And your speaking partner will be reassured to see what your shortcomings are and especially that you recognize them: it will thus be a pleasure to help you understand and translate certain words.
Often, when you learn a foreign language like Spanish, you may hear words that seem familiar but that don’t resemble to anything you’ve learned. This often happens with verbs and the explication is simple: the tense has changed.
Your speaking partner may be speaking in the past tense, referring to a hypothetical situation in the conditional, or inviting you to meet in the future. When you study Spanish, one of the training basics is to know the different tenses of conjugation of regular and irregular verbs.
So as to not make mistakes while speaking, to make yourself understood and especially not to mix up different conjugations, always speak in the present. Even if your syntax it is totally wrong, the important thing is that you are getting your point across.
To learn to use verb tenses, you can:
The advantage of making these word lists yourself is that you’ll retain them easier and you will know to use them in correct sentence structure.
If you’ve already done the last step and the results were not great, why not slow down your “express” Spanish training.
Take a deep break, don’t give in to panic and calm yourself.
When you have to translate a word or expression, when you have to understand what your speaking partner is telling you but you get stuck, remind yourself to do one thing: go back to your Spanish training basics!
There is always a way to fall back on your feet by trying to understand and dissect the word or expression that you heard.
Although difficult, Spanish training is never impossible. On the contrary, look at is as a challenge to overcome. When you can’t find the “correct” words or sentence structure to use in a speaking situation, find a way to explain yourself by imitating something, or miming a situation.
Be direct: ask your speaking partner what he or she is saying, ask him or her to speak slower or articulate better.
Stand behind what you are saying, even if there are mistakes, and assert it with confidence. There’s a high change you’ll get corrected, but you’ll make good progress in your aim to learn Spanish fast!
If your level is really not sufficient enough to follow a conversation in Spanish, it might be beneficial to take classes with an experienced language instructor.
Whether they are online Spanish classes, night classes in an institute or private lessons with an independent instructor (or even Free Spanish lessons), there is always a professional to help you learn to improve your Spanish.
Take a Spanish class!
With your teacher, you will learn to speak and write in Spanish. This training will allow you become skilled at conversing fluidly in a new language. Why take a Spanish class? Here are some benefits:
Why not find a Superprof to help you become bilingual in English and Spanish…?
Or check out other resources?