If you want to learn Spanish and speak like a native speaker, you need to:
We haven’t talked much about pronunciation so far. Yet, this is something you should tackle as quickly as possible, before any bad habits get ingrained.
Set aside some time to practice them all.
The basic idea: you listen to a recording of a Spanish native speaker and, with just a slight delay (1-2 seconds), you repeat what that person says.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to shadowing (I would create a video demonstrating it, but it would be utterly confusing to you, as you would hear the original audio and the audio of me speaking at the same time! If I find a way to create a clear demo video, I’ll make one )
While shadowing, you don’t have to understand everything you’re saying. In fact, you probably won’t. But this doesn’t matter. What matters is you’re getting the muscles in your mouth and tongue used to producing certain sounds, and that you absorb the rhythm and intonation of a native speaker.
So go ahead: take that first dialogue that I gave you and start shadowing it! Do this exercise as often as possible, especially in the first weeks and months of learning Spanish. It’ll make a big difference in how you sound, and how native speakers perceive you.
Ok, so you’re now learning about pronunciation and “sounding like a native speaker” by shadowing the dialogues. But if you end up in a conversation with a native Spanish speaker (hopefully you will, at some point), then what exactly should you say?
Step 4: Find speaking opportunities
We talked a bit about speaking before, and being able to participate in conversations is probably one of your big goals for learning Spanish.
So don’t avoid it completely. Throughout your Spanish journey, you need to make sure you focus a lot on getting input, on listening, reading and finding chunks. But at a certain point, you also need to convert that input and start using it while speaking!
If you’re brave, you can dive straight into conversations with native Spanish speakers.
But there’s no shame in taking some intermediary steps to prepare you for the real deal either! Here are some things I like to do to prepare myself for conversations with Spanish native speakers:
How to speak Spanish for beginners: 4 steps to prepare yourself
Step 1: Practice with the most willing conversation partner in the world … yourself!
When you start learning Spanish and you can only introduce yourself and maybe talk about the weather or how many siblings you have, you might feel you’re not bringing much to the conversation.
This might stop you from speaking. After all, don’t we all want to be interesting conversation partners?
This is why I usually start practicing with a conversation partner who’s in no place to complain about my limited choice of conversation topics—myself!
For example, several times during the day, when I’m alone, I would introduce myself in Spanish—to myself.
And when I’m on the street and feel like practicing Spanish, I sometimes take out my cell phone and pretend to have a conversation with somebody. This might sound weird at first, but no matter how much I’m stumbling and repeating myself during my fake phone calls, nobody has ever called me out on it.
Self-talk in Spanish is free practice, without the fear of rejection and without the fear of making mistakes.
Step 2: Use the camera as a conversation partner
Once you’re comfortable holding conversations with yourself, start recording yourself speaking Spanish. Simply sit in front of your computer or take out your phone and talk for a few minutes. The camera will give you extra pressure while speaking, but not as much as having a real conversation with a native.
Note: If you want to increase the pressure, you could upload your videos to YouTube or Facebook. Share it with some people, and you might even get some free feedback from native speakers.
Step 3: Make people listen to you!
The final step before having casual conversations with natives are private lessons with a tutor. You can find a tutor close to you, or use an online service, which is usually more affordable. A good place to find Spanish tutors is Italki.
Yes, you’ll have to pay for this, but that’s precisely the point. The primary goal of these conversations is not being sociable or making friends, it’s learning Spanish.
In fact, you’re paying the other person to listen to you stumble, and they will probably correct you and make sure you’re improving!
I’m not saying you should treat your teachers as nothing more than a commodity, of course. Most tutors I’ve worked with were very friendly and helpful, and we have had great conversations. However, for me, the fact that I’m paying them to help me improve takes away the pressure to impress them with my skills or my interesting stories, which makes speaking freely a lot easier.
Note: For these tutoring lessons, it’s important you take control of the time you and your tutor spend together. You’re not there to have someone explain grammar rules to you. You want to practice your conversation skills, and you need to make this very clear.
During the class, choose topics you’re familiar with so you can use the chunks you’ve learned during listening and speaking practice.
Before your session, think about some chunks you want to use and make sure you actually use them.
While preparing, it’s also a good idea to learn filler words and phrases like:
They will keep the conversation flowing and you’ll encourage the other person to keep talking, to give you time to think of a good response.
Step 4: Time for the real deal
Finally, you’ll have to take the plunge and speak with native Spanish speakers. Just go out there and try having a conversation with someone. Try to find out if there’s a community who speak the language in your city and see where they hang out—they might be on a community site like Meetup, Facebook or Tandem partners. Talk to them. If you have difficulty finding people to speak with, try a language exchange through Skype.
That’s it! Follow these steps, and you’ll be having confident conversations in next to no time.
This content was originally published here.