Getting to a point where you feel comfortable on how to speak Spanish can be a long process that takes a lot of practice. Of course, the most important step in communicating effectively is to learn the grammar and pronunciation of the language first. However, how many people do you know that studied Spanish for years but still sound like a bumbling idiot when they try to spit out anything other than a drink order? The books will give you the tools you need to understand the language, but keeping these tips in mind will help smooth out the rough edges of your textbook Spanish.
5 Tips on How to Speak Spanish Naturally and Communicate Effectively
1. Adapt to your surroundings
I hate to break it to you, but there is no way a textbook could prepare you to speak Spanish in every single Spanish speaking area. While a lot of the vocabulary and conjugations you learned in school will be understood by Spanish speakers worldwide, it might not be what they are used to or use themselves.
For example, in Argentina they pronounce “y” and “ll” like “shy” instead of just a Y sound. So “Yo me llamo” becomes “Shyo me shyamo” in Argentine Spanish. They also use the Vos form instead of the Tú form used in other countries. Living in Argentina has really altered my pronunciation and I hardly ever use the Tú form. However, when I am around Spanish speakers from other countries I make a conscious effort to use the Tú form and use the neutral vocabulary I learned in school instead of Argentina-specific words. It just makes the conversation flow better.
2. But don´t force it
Nothing is worse than a foreign language student who takes it way too far. Yes, it is important to adapt to your surroundings, but you don’t need to go overboard. Think of it as someone who goes crazy with the camouflage paint and ends up just standing out more amongst the trees. If you are just visiting a place, there is no need to adapt every word you say to their pronunciation and their vocabulary. Your speech will end up sounding forced and unnatural. Plus, the more effort you waste on trying to remember all the colloquialisms, the less likely you are to speak in a comfortable, natural manner.
3. Choose an accent and stick with it
If someone came up to you and weaved in and out of a British, North American, Irish, and Scottish accent, wouldn’t you be confused? No doubt you would find the whole conversation hard to follow and also slightly comical.
Some people are accent chameleons and some are not. If you can flip a switch and speak like a Mexican than flip it over to Colombian and swing it back around to a Spaniard then more power to you – as long as you are in the proper company.
However, if you are a mere mortal and are not so great and switching in between accents, you should really just pick the accent you are most comfortable in and stick with it. When it comes to communicating effectively, your comfort level has a huge effect on how successful you will be. Plus, if your conversation partner is choking back laughter the whole time, you are likely to clam up fairly quickly.
4. Don’t force the use of every single vocabulary word
Think about your own language – aren’t their words you would never use? I have a lot of friends that say “rad” but you’ll never catch me saying it. It’s not because I think it’s a stupid word, I simply do not feel natural saying it. You are bound to find words in Spanish that do not roll off your tongue all that well. Personally, I avoid the word “bárbaro” which basically just means “great, cool, awesome”. I don’t know why I don’t like it, but I see no point in forcing myself to use it.
5. Just keep talking
This is real life, not an oral exam. No one is sitting in front of you with a clipboard and a red pen, so calm down. If you make a mistake, get over it and keep moving. If you need to quickly correct yourself for clarity’s sake, go for it, otherwise, just keep going. If you stop 5 times before finishing a sentence people will forget what you were talking about in the first place and quickly tire of trying to listen.
Speaking correctly is not enough if you hope to become fluent. The goal is to feel like yourself when speaking Spanish, so figure out how to make yourself comfortable and communicate!
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