How to Speak Spanish Like a Pro: Top Tips for Becoming a Spanish Chatterbox

by learn a language journalist

Speaking—a language learner’s biggest dream or worst nightmare.

Whether you’re a beginner in Spanish or just walked home with your DELE C2 certificate, speaking is a necessary language skill to hone.

If you’re an extrovert, this is probably your favorite part of learning a language—think of all the people you’ll meet, conversations you’ll have and talking you’ll do.

But if you’re an introvert, speaking can make you so nervous you strive to avoid it until you’re “ready.” (And, let’s be honest—we’re never ready for our first Spanish conversation!)

A few years ago, I found myself more on the introvert side of the spectrum. All my language tutors used Skype to conduct our lessons, and I was so nervous that every time I hear the Skype ringtone today, my heart still starts to race a little.

But with consistency, practice and preparation, speaking can quickly go from your least favorite language skill to the one you practice the most.

And in this post, I’m here to help you transform from a Spanish-speaking newbie into a confident Spanish chatterbox.

7 Ways to Improve Your Spanish Pronunciation

If you want to speak Spanish well, you absolutely need to nail pronunciation. Don’t get me wrong—you don’t have to be speaking Spanish like you came straight from Spain, and you probably won’t, at least for a very long time. But being understood doesn’t mean sounding perfectly native.

If you’re wondering how to improve your Spanish speaking, the answer often starts with pronunciation.

And with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to learning Spanish pronunciation like a pro. It takes practice, but with a bit of consistency, you’ll find that native speakers have no problem understanding you when you speak.

1. Focus on your vowels

The way Spanish vowels are pronounced is quite different than how they sound in English. But don’t fret—mastering vowels is probably the easiest step to Spanish pronunciation.

Firstly, they only make one sound each. Compare that to English vowels, which, depending on the letters that come after and before them, can sound different. Take for example the words bat and cake, and cat and cause. The letter “a” just made three different sounds!

Secondly, the Spanish vowels are the same letters that are vowels in English. To hear them pronounced, click on the example words:

Third, Spanish vowels are usually shorter than English vowels. This means that you don’t pronounce them as long as you do in English. As you can see from the example words above, the vowel sounds are quite short.

2. Listen to lots of native content

To master Spanish pronunciation, you have to hear Spanish words pronounced by native speakers. And in today’s world, that’s an easy task—just open up YouTube, watch a Spanish movie on Netflix or use FluentU.

With FluentU, you can learn everything from lyrics to how to talk about business in Spanish—all through videos.

Simply select your level, browse FluentU’s library of thousands of Spanish videos and choose one that interests you. Before you watch the video, you’ll be given key vocabulary that’ll appear in the clip.

But if you still come across a word you don’t know, just click or tap on it in the subtitles. FluentU will then instantly show you the word’s meaning, some example sentences and related images.

You can even look up words you don’t know in FluentU’s video-based dictionary. After searching for a word, you’ll be given not just its translation and example sentences, but also a collection of videos that use it in context.

Finally, reinforce everything you’ve learned with quizzes and SRS (spaced repetition software) flashcards, which store new vocab in your long-term memory.

Ready to trade in your textbooks for fun Spanish videos? Try FluentU for free today!

3. Decide which Spanish dialect you want to learn

You might know that there are differences between Castilian and Latin American Spanish, but let’s dig even deeper.

Spanish pronunciation—and even words, like slang—can vary from country to country. If you want to reach native-level fluency, you’ll eventually have to specify further than just “I want to learn Latin American Spanish.”

For example, in Honduras, native speakers tend to silence the “s” that comes at the end of words. In Venezuela and Colombia, the Spanish spoken sounds quite sing-songy. And in Argentina, the Spanish accent sounds quite similar to the way Italian does!

The list of different types of Spanish is quite long since there are so many Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Let’s take a look at several Spanish dialects below:

There are several reasons why you might want to learn a specific regional variation of Spanish, such as the people you want to be able to talk to and the places you want to go.

It could also be due to your family heritage or roots. For me, my dad is from Venezuela, so I focus on Venezuelan Spanish.

To specify your Spanish and focus on a regional dialect, you’ll want to not only learn how words are pronounced there, but also the accent, culture, speed of speech and slang.

4. Mimic native speakers

If you want to speak like a native one day, the best time to start is now. And you can easily do so with techniques like sentence mining and shadowing!

This works great for not only improving your pronunciation, but also improving your accent.

Simply choose an audio resource—like a YouTube video or a FluentU video—and repeat after the native speakers. You can pause the video after each line to repeat it or you can try shadowing, which is when you repeat everything you hear as soon as you hear it.

By shadowing, you’re essentially speaking while the native speaker is still speaking, which is also great for your listening skills.

5. Learn how to trill your r’s

It’s well-known that one of the biggest differences between Spanish and English pronunciation is the Spanish r sound. Spanish has two r sounds—the single r that sounds just like English, and the trilled r, which is spelled like “rr.”

For example, the difference between the words pero (but) and perro (dog) is that the second word is trilled whereas the first isn’t. This is because perro is spelled with two r’s—the trilled r.

Some native English speakers can already trill their r’s without even practicing, but others struggle with it. But even if you feel like you’re just spitting and gurgling every time you try to roll your r’s, never fear. It just takes proper tongue placement and consistent practice.

The way I learned to trill my r’s was through watching YouTube videos.

6. Learn proper tongue placement and practice in front of a mirror

Remember how I said to trill your r’s you have to learn proper tongue placement? Well, the way you pronounce all sounds in a language requires tongue placement.

Where you place your tongue and how you open your mouth determines what sounds come out. So to get a hang of your pronunciation and accent, look at a tongue placement chart or watch more YouTube videos. It might feel weird at first, but it’ll feel much more natural soon enough.

To make sure you’ve got it right, you can also practice talking to yourself in the mirror. As you say certain words, see which shapes your mouth is making and feel what your tongue is doing. Does it match a native speaker’s?

If you feel like giving yourself a challenge, you can even try saying the hardest words to pronounce in Spanish. Or try to improve your pronunciation with Spanish tongue twisters!

7. Master the new Spanish letters

In English, our alphabet has 26 letters. But Spanish has a few more.

We already talked about how you can tell that an r is supposed to be trilled by whether there are one or two of them. But did you know that the double r (rr) is actually its own letter?

When learning Spanish as an English speaker, there are three new letters you need to make acquaintances with:

8 Ways to Improve Your Spanish Conversational Fluidity

Now that you know how to nail pronunciation and improve your accent, let’s talk about how to speak in Spanish faster, more naturally and more like a native during conversations.

This is probably every Spanish learner’s ultimate goal—to be able to sound fluent, express themselves freely and speak without overthinking or translating in their head. But achieving that goal can feel frustrating, unrealistic and even impossible sometimes.

The truth is, even intermediate learners struggle with this. As you learn more grammar and vocabulary, you want to make sure that you’re using it right before you open your mouth. But if you’re ready to conquer that feeling, then keep reading.

Because believe it or not, you don’t have to wait until you reach C2 fluency before you actually sound fluent. Let’s dive into eight ways you can learn conversational Spanish with ease.

1. Master the most commonly used words

If your goal is to be able to communicate and converse with people in Spanish, then you need to learn words you’ll actually use in those conversations.

To do this, you need to learn the most commonly used words in everyday Spanish speech. By doing so, you’re using the Pareto Principle (also called the 80/20 rule), which states that 80% of the results come from just 20% of the work.

Essentially, most of the words you’ll learn through textbooks and language courses won’t be used in the majority of casual conversations. So to progress quickly with your conversational skills, you need to focus on the 20% that does.

So instead of using an app, textbook or online course, start by looking up a list of the most common 100, 500 or even 1,000 Spanish words. By memorizing these, you’ll be learning meaningful words that are bound to show up in most conversations.

I personally use this method with every new language I learn. In fact, I was able to have conversations in Indonesian (without any English) after just three weeks using the Pareto Principle (or, learning the most common 1,000 words in Indonesian). If I can do it in just three weeks, you can, too.

2. Listen to authentic Spanish content

There are endless benefits to watching and listening to native Spanish content, like movies, TV shows, vlogs, news clips, songs and more. But for now, let’s take a look at two.

First, you learn natural Spanish. Media designed for native speakers to enjoy shows you how native speakers actually talk. Your ears also grow accustomed to the pronunciation and accent of the region the media comes from and you’re introduced to slang.

Second, you reinforce what you’ve already learned. Learning the most common Spanish words plus watching native Spanish content equals the perfect combination. You won’t ever truly master the new vocabulary you’re studying until you use it and hear it in action.

The perfect way to achieve both of these benefits is by using FluentU. FluentU lets you learn new words and hear what you’ve already learned through videos at the same time.

Plus, you won’t ever have to worry about wasting your time on videos that are way too advanced or too beginner for you. Thanks to FluentU’s algorithm, you’re only quizzed on the words and grammar you’ve already learned and you can filter the videos you’re recommended by level.

3. Get a language partner

If you want to learn how to speak Spanish fluently, you have to actually speak it. Because of this, language partners are absolutely essential for your Spanish improvement.

The great thing about language partners is that even if you’re shy, you’re expected to make mistakes. When you do a language trade, your partner is still learning English and you’re still learning their language, so both of you are trying to communicate in a tongue that’s foreign to you.

In the majority of cases, you won’t ever receive judgment from your partner because they know that they’re making mistakes, too. Instead, you can both grow and improve together.

Speaking in a new language can be frustrating and even scary at first, but with time, it gets much easier, even with a limited vocabulary. So my best advice is to start now and don’t give up. Try to find a language partner that can commit to having conversations with you at least once a week.

Plus, if you’ve been studying the most common Spanish words, you’re more prepared for conversations than you’d be if you were using a textbook!

4. Write journal entries

Many people think keeping a diary or journal in a foreign language only helps with writing skills. But in reality, it helps quite a lot with speaking, as well.

When we write, we practice organizing our thoughts, so it becomes much easier when we speak. Plus, when writing, you can identify mistakes that you make and correct them, whereas when speaking, you can’t simply erase your words. This allows you to identify and correct mistakes that you’re prone to making so that when you start to speak, you already know the correct way to say what you want to.

In the end, it’s much easier to express yourself through writing than it is through speaking in a new language, at least at first. But if you write consistently, you’ll find that speaking becomes easier, as well.

In other words, the way you write in Spanish will start to become the way you speak. It’s an easy way to speak Spanish without actually speaking.

5. Learn filler words

Filler words are the secret ingredient for sounding so natural to the point that you might sound like you’re actually having an advanced Spanish conversation.

This is because native speakers use filler words all the time, but they’re often overlooked by language learners.

Filler words are sounds, words and phrases like “um,” “let me think, ” “like,” “the thing” and “so on and so forth.” We use filler words all the time in our native language when we’re trying to figure out how to say what we want.

When you use filler words in Spanish—such as pues (well…), o sea (I mean…) and a que (so)—you sound like a native speaker and avoid awkward silence when trying to translate in your head instead of thinking in Spanish.

Trust me, this trick will be the difference between sounding like an unconfident beginner versus an intermediate learner trying to articulate their point!

6. Master the basic verb conjugations

If you want to be able to express yourself well in Spanish, you need to learn how to talk about the past, present and future.

Luckily, the present and future tenses are quite easy to learn. However, the past can be a little bit tricky. There are two major past tenses in Spanish that are commonly used: the preterite and the imperfect.

The difference is that the preterite is used to describe completed actions that lasted for a specific duration of time, whereas the imperfect describes actions that were ongoing or lasted for an uncertain amount of time, weather, age, time and a few others.

The preterite and imperfect were the most tricky conjugations for me to learn, but making conjugation charts and practicing consistently were the keys. Plus, I found that some explanations left me more confused than others. So if you still don’t quite understand a Spanish grammar concept, be sure to use another resource to see if you can find a better explanation.

For example, you can watch three YouTube videos or read three articles to ensure you’ve understood it.

7. Take a conversational Spanish course

Did you know that there are actual courses that teach conversational Spanish? By taking one of these, you’re more likely to learn vocabulary and grammar most useful for real-world Spanish. Plus, you can easily measure your progress as you work through the lessons.

Conversational courses are great for walking you through the most basic Spanish conversations for beginners and teaching useful Spanish conversational phrases.

Additionally, you’ll learn how to discuss a variety of topics that are popular for small talk, such as hobbies.

So if you aren’t quite ready to leave courses and textbooks for native speakers yet, you can take comfort knowing there are courses that specifically help you learn to speak conversational Spanish.

8. Learn to love the Spanish “lo” (and other pronouns)

You’ve heard this word a million times—lo. But what does it mean?

Lo is a direct object pronoun, and its female counterpart is la. These words are used quite often by native speakers when referring to a noun that’s already been mentioned. For example:

Yo tengo el libro (I have the book) → Yo lo tengo (I have it)

Yo compro la bolsa (I buy the purse) → Yo la compro (I buy it)

Spanish also has personal pronouns that you need to learn—me, te, le, nos, os and les.

Any time you’re doing something to someone else, you need to use a personal pronoun:

Yo le doy un perro (I give him/her a dog)

Yo te veo (I see you)

Ella me habla (she talks to me)

Ellos nos llaman (they call us)

Nosotros les decimos (we tell them)

You’ll see and hear these words time and time again, so it’s best to get familiar with them as soon as possible.

7 Ways to Build Spanish Speaking Confidence and Practice from Home

You’ve been equipped with what you need to start speaking Spanish and having conversations. But how do you build the confidence to start practicing with native speakers?

Luckily, you can build some pretty strong speaking skills and discover how to learn Spanish speaking at home without conversing with a native. Although it’s not a substitute for real-life conversations, it’s definitely a great way to build confidence, practice and improve your skills.

If you need to know how to speak Spanish confidently fast, look no further than these seven tips.

1. Practice and record yourself

An easy and fun way to improve your speaking skills at home is by picking a topic to talk about and then recording yourself. Try to talk for at least one minute, and as you get more comfortable, increase the time.

Think of these sessions as spoken diary or journal entries. Anything you can write about, you can speak about.

You can download an app for recording audio or just use the app that comes with your Android or iPhone. The app allows you to record audio without having to film a video, see how long you’ve been recording and save it for later.

It’s always motivating to listen to your old Spanish recordings and compare them to how well you speak Spanish now.

2. Make Spanish-speaking friends

Whether you meet via a language exchange app or in person, having a Spanish-speaking friend provides multiple benefits to your learning journey and gives you a boost of confidence.

We already talked about how having a Spanish language partner provides you with the comfort that you aren’t the only one making mistakes. But when you build a relationship with a native speaker, you’ll grow more and more confident in yourself as you speak Spanish with them.

And if you want to build speaking skills without leaving your house, downloading a language exchange app is the perfect way to do so. But if you prefer going out or meeting in-person, you can easily make new friends through resources like Meetup and Facebook groups.

3. Book a lesson with a tutor

Instead of (or in addition to) practicing your Spanish with a conversation partner, you can also book online lessons with a tutor. While many tutors offer a curriculum and lesson plans, most are willing to simply have an hour-long conversation to help you practice through a video platform like Skype.

Plus, the benefit of having a tutor is that they’re there to correct your mistakes. This provides many learners comfort because a tutor won’t judge you for making your mistakes and in fact, expects you to. It’s their job to give you Spanish conversation practice and help you improve your skills, as well as correcting your errors.

Finally, having conversations in a structured and formal setting with a tutor will prepare you for more natural, spontaneous and informal conversations in the future.

4. Learn more about the topics you talk about often

There are certain topics we talk about more than others, such as our family, hobbies and jobs. One of the best ways you can boost your Spanish-speaking confidence is by learning how to speak about these topics confidently—you should know them like the back of your hand.

It’s only natural that the same things we talk about in our native languages we’ll also want to talk about in our target language. When you can confidently communicate about these subjects, your conversations will go more smoothly.

5. Use conversation starters

Sometimes, it’ll be up to you to start a conversation with a Spanish speaker, especially if you’re in a foreign country and no one is sure that you can speak the language.

Because of this, it’s important that you learn a few conversation starters. These can be questions to ask a stranger to strike up a discussion, popular Spanish conversation topics, regional slang for saying “hello” or “how are you” or even staying up with current events in the Spanish-speaking country you’re learning about.

You can learn many of these topics through a basic conversational Spanish course or just by scouring the internet.

Not only are conversation starters great for sparking small talk, but they also come in handy when trying to break the awkward silence and keep the discussion going.

6. Try shadowing

I briefly covered the shadowing technique earlier when talking about Spanish pronunciation audio, but it’s vital that you know just how effective this method is for both speaking and listening skill improvement.

Shadowing forces you to closely listen to what the native speaker(s) is saying, and then repeat it to the best of your abilities. This improves your pronunciation, fluidity, speed of speech, active listening skills and ability to keep up with native-paced discourse.

If your chosen audio is too fast at first, try slowing down the playback speed. Resources like YouTube allow you to do this easily, and you can always speed it back up once you’re feeling confident.

Shadowing is by far one of the most challenging (but rewarding) language learning practice techniques. But it’s because of this method’s difficulty that you’ll be feeling much more relaxed during real-life conversations.

Think about it—if you can actively listen and repeat everything a native speaker is saying during a video you’ve never watched before, you can definitely have small talk with a native speaker who is actively engaging with you.

7. Practice with sample dialogues

Listening to Spanish dialogues is a great way to not only get a feel for how real-world conversations would go, but to also boost your confidence. You can easily find them on platforms like YouTube and FluentU, and studying them helps you feel prepared before having your own small talks.

Learn a Spanish conversation you heard in a video or online course and use it as a basis to build upon. This could be a simple Spanish phone conversation or an intermediate Spanish conversation about your favorite type of literature.

And there you have it—the A-Z guide on how to go from a silent Spanish learner to a chatty Spanish speaker. The best part about learning a new language is the relationships you build with it, so get out there and start speaking!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you’ll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.

This content was originally published here.

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