I learned my Spanish in a university in St. Louis, Missouri. My professors were from Mexico, Spain, and Argentina – I had my choice of accents. For whatever reason, before I even had a class with the Argentine professor, I adopted el canto, or the sing-song rhythm that Italians and Argentinians often use while speaking. When I visited Argentina the first time, locals noticed it and before I knew it, I had adopted a lot of the other pronunciation idiosyncrasies that Argentinians have.
I’ve dealt with a lot of accents, and I can imitate them all fairly well to a certain extent – but my default remains Argentine. On a recent trip to Mexico, I was continuously asked ¿Eres de Argentina?
I left Argentina four months ago. Back in the United States, the Spanish speakers I deal with on a daily basis are Puerto Rican and Mexican. I recognize their accents and can assimilate to them when I make an effort to. So I wonder – why is my default still Argentine?
It’s the same reason your accent probably defaults to wherever you grew up. Sure, you probably know how to turn it off, but it often feels fake or forced. You feel it and people notice it. I find that when trying to keep a Mexican accent throughout an entire conversation, I will make silly grammar mistakes that I never make when I am more relaxed. So what should you do?
4 Tips on How to Speak Spanish Fluently
Focus on communicating first and foremost. Once you get comfortable, your accent will slowly morph. If you’re just spending a week in Mexico, your accent probably won’t change much, if at all. However, if you live there for a month, you’ll notice your accent changing. The more you travel, the better your accent-chameleon abilities will become.
2. Focus on Understanding.
Understanding different accents can be very difficult and jarring, so it’s much more important for you to focus on your own comprehension before you worry about your accent. Allow your language skills to morph naturally, and you’ll do much better!
3. Listen to the rhythm.
Languages have rhythm and if you pay attention you will easily hear some of those rhythms in any language. Yes, even languages you understand nothing about. The different accents in Spanish each have their own rhythm. Some are easy to pick out like Argentina, Chile, Spain and Mexico. Others are a bit more difficult to differentiate: Colombia vs. Venezuela, Bolivia vs. Paraguay, the Central American countries. If you want to learn a specific accent, begin to listen to the rhythms and intonations natives use, even if you do not understand everything they are saying.
4. Learn the Local Vocabulary.
This may seem an obvious part of sounding like a local, but many people overlook this. Sometimes it’s because the person doesn’t realize the vocabulary is so different. It may also be because they think it won’t make a difference in how well they are understood. But vocabulary is an important part of obtaining a “native” accent. The post 6 Tips To Speak Like A Native goes into more detail about how to learn the local vocabulary.
Assuming a native accent while learning Spanish takes lots and lots of work. And frankly, there’s no need for you to do this. However, if you want to, these tips will help you move the process along.
Do you have any other tips that have worked for you?
Check out these other articles about How to Speak Spanish.