How to Become Conversational in Spanish: Tips and Tricks
Have you ever asked yourself why you want to learn Spanish? In other words, why are you here?
Without knowing your personal circumstances, I imagine that you are here because you want to become conversational in Spanish.
That’s the goal of every language student in the world: to become conversational in the language they are studying. That was my goal when I started studying English.
So, let’s see what becoming conversational in Spanish means, what you need to do to achieve it, and how you can do it.
Fluent vs Conversational in Spanish
To be fluent or to be conversational in Spanish? That’s the question. But wait, aren’t they the same thing? What are the differences between these two terms? Well, that’s a debate for linguists and teachers of any language that I will try to clarify.
Fun fact: to be conversational in a language you only need to know around 3,000 words, while to be fluent that number goes up to 20,000 to 40,000 words.
What Does Fluent Mean?
Most students of Spanish have in their minds the goal of becoming fluent in the language. However, to be fluent in a language means to speak it just like native speakers do. And that’s a hard thing to do, especially if we consider slang and colloquialisms, too.
Fluency, in this context, means that you can write and speak in Spanish perfectly. If you reflect on your goal, perhaps you are not actually looking for this level of proficiency in the language. This doesn’t mean that it’s not attainable, it’s just not what most people aim for.
What Does Conversational Mean?
Becoming conversational in Spanish means that you are able to communicate well in the language without hesitation. In other words, you speak Spanish reasonably well, you are able to sustain a conversation with a native speaker, and you don’t second guess your words at every moment.
Most people who study Spanish, or any other language actually, aim for this level of proficiency. Being conversational in Spanish means that you can visit a Spanish-speaking country and get by without much trouble.
So, the question remains: to be fluent or to be conversational in Spanish?
What’s Your Goal?
Now that we have defined the terms, you need to define your own goal. Aiming for fluency is completely valid, it just requires more time and effort on your part. It’s a level usually reserved for people planning to work and develop a career in that language.
Aiming to become conversational in Spanish is a goal shared by many people around the world. This is the kind of proficiency level achieved by travelers and people who have a relationship with Spanish-speaking partners for example.
So, why are you here? What are your plans for the future regarding the Spanish language? That’s a personal decision, and only you know the answer. For the moment, let’s explore more about becoming conversational in Spanish.
Becoming Conversational in Spanish
Once you have reached a high beginner level in Spanish, it’s quite effective to start speaking conversational Spanish. A high beginner already knows about verb conjugations in Spanish, and that’s an important part of the process. Starting with conversational Spanish before this level is still possible but a bit more complicated.
Tips and Tricks to Become Conversational in Spanish
Let’s see some useful tips and tricks that will help you to achieve a conversational Spanish level:
1. Learn the conjugation sets of at least 20 verbs in Spanish
You’ll be surprised by the amount of conversations you can have with just 20 verbs. Mastering these conjugations is helpful for practicing real conversations in Spanish, and little by little words and phrases will start flowing naturally.
Just make sure to choose the right verbs. This post introduces some of the most common verbs in Spanish and is a good starting point.
2. Create a Spanish Phrasebook
I’m not talking about anything too complex, just a few common phrases that you know will come up pretty much every time you speak in Spanish. Simple things like ¿cómo estás? (how are you?) or ¡nos vemos mañana! (see you tomorrow!). Write these down in a notebook dedicated to Spanish vocabulary and phrases.
Homeschool Spanish Academy is here to help you with 100 Essential Spanish Phrases for Conversational Fluency.
3. Watch TV Shows and Movies in Spanish with Subtitles
This one sounds silly but it’s a very efficient trick. By watching these shows and films, you train your ear to the sounds of Spanish and the talking speed of native speakers. By reading the subtitles, you associate sound with written words and this helps you to catch new phrases and refine your grammar.
Another benefit of this little trick is that you get to know a new culture. Watch out—you may even become a fan of telenovelas!
Connectors are useful words that don’t change the meaning of a sentence. Instead, they make the conversation flow more smoothly. Learning how to use them properly goes a long way toward becoming conversational in Spanish.
Let’s take a look at different types of connectors in Spanish and some common examples:
Connectors Used When Sharing an Opinion, Agreeing, or Disagreeing with Someone
|por lo visto||apparently|
|ya que||since, now that|
|por eso||that’s why|
|que yo sepa||as far as I know|
|por consiguiente||thus, therefore|
Connectors Used When You Express When Something Will or Did Happen
|tan pronto como||as soon as|
|primero que nada||first of all|
Connectors Used When You Add Something or Contrast with a Different Idea
|a pesar de||in spite of|
|de todas formas||anyway|
Some people consider fillers as a type of connector, and they may be onto something. Fillers do make the flow of the conversation move more smoothly, but the difference is that some of them don’t even exist in the written language. Have you heard that phrase that you shouldn’t write like you speak? Well, that refers to fillers. Fillers are acceptable when speaking, but not when writing.
As their name suggests, these are words used to fill blanks in the conversation, usually to buy time for the speaker to think. They are called muletillas in Spanish, and even when the words may have some meaning, when used in this context, many times they lose it. Think of the English “um” to get the idea of what I’m talking about here.
Common Muletillas or Spanish Fillers
|o sea||In other words|
|a ver||let’s see|
|¿vale?||you get me?|
|digo||I mean, that is to say|
|es que||the thing is|
Ways to Practice
A few options exist for you to practice conversational Spanish. Let’s explore some of the most common:
1. Get a Spanish Language Partner
Basically, you agree with a native Spanish speaker to speak (in person or digitally) half your meeting in Spanish and the other half in English. You practice your target language and the other person does the same.
This is an interesting option because it’s free, it doesn’t require much formality, and it can even develop into a nice friendship with someone from another culture.
2. Get a Tutor
Maybe the most obvious choice. Hiring a tutor has many benefits, as you deal with a professional who knows how to help you and gives you personal attention. Homeschool Spanish Academy is a great option if you choose to go down this road.
3. Use an App
These days, there’s an app for everything, even conversational Spanish. Several brands can help you with this. LingQ, Duolingo, and Memrise are a few of the most popular. My recommendation is to use apps as a complement to other resources, rather than as your main source.
4. Socialize with Native Spanish Speakers
Finally, this is the one option that you simply can’t avoid no matter what. This is your goal. Go and put yourself in situations where you have to apply everything that you have learned up to this point. Attend events organized by or for the Hispanic community in your area, celebrations like Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos are excellent excuses for making Latino friends.
For many people, the main issue with this option is to overcome their fear of being embarrassed by their Spanish. This is understandable but look at it as your training for the real thing. Talking to native speakers in your community will be easier than doing it in another country. At the end of the day, most of them will also speak English. You can’t be sure that’s going to be the case once you get to Madrid.
Let’s Have a Conversation in Spanish!
Now that you know that becoming conversational in Spanish is your goal and that you have some tricks under your sleeve, let’s put them into practice. Homeschool Spanish Academy offers flexible and fun Spanish classes with native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. Sign up now for a free trial lesson, and try out your conversational skills with a professional, certified Spanish teacher!
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