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How to Increase your Spanish Fluency
We have our whole lives to perfect our native language fluency which is why it is often so frustrating to feel that you are not speaking at the level you would like to during your language learning journey. But don’t despair! If you find yourself hoping to mejorar tu español, below are some quick and easy ways to increase your Spanish fluency.
Start by increasing your vocabulary
Increasing your vocabulary will not only give you a broad base of words to choose from to express yourself, but will help you align vocabulary to sound more like a native speaker. As you know, there are many dialects and accents throughout the Spanish speaking world. Choosing one country or dialect to focus on and increase your vocabulary from that region, will give your level of Spanish a more authentic feel.
Below are a few ideas to help increase your vocab quickly:
Label everything you own.
Make small flashcards or use mini post-it notes and start with your house or apartment. Go room to room and label every object. Keep the post-it notes Spanish only.
For example, start in the bathroom and take your dictionary with you in case you run into a word you can’t quite remember. Make a post-it note for everything you see and write down the word for it in Spanish: sink, toilet, bathtub, wall, paint, etc.
Even label the more “unconventional” words like vent, outlet, tile, or if those words are too basic, try making labels that describe different bathroom surfaces: shiny, smooth, textured, stucco, etc.
Slowly make your way around the house and continue labeling items to help increase your vocabulary. Once all of your items are labeled, read them every time you enter the room and say them out loud. Pretty soon you’ll know them all naturally without having to look at the post-it notes.
Expand this exercise into your car or office.
Describe your surroundings
If you can’t hang post-it’s up around the office, or your roommates don’t appreciate labels all over your house, make yourself a conscious reminder on your workstation or phone to take 5 or 10 minutes a day to look around and name everything you can in Spanish (stoplight, fire truck, crosswalk) or describe your surroundings to yourself.
If you find something that you don’t know how to say, write it down, look up how to say it, and keep a list of all the new words you have learned.
This is a great exercise to use on your lunch break as you sit outside for a few minutes or during your walk to the sandwich shop – carve out time each day to create a story in your head, describe your surroundings, and think in Spanish!
Don’t forget to train your ear.
Training your ear is SO important to achieve near-native fluency. You could know all of your Spanish text books forward and back and you might even know more words and phrases than some native speakers, but if you don’t train your ear, you won’t be able to hear how native speakers really sound or the nuances of the language.
Listen to Spanish radio and music
During your commute, at work with ear buds, working out – whatever excuse you have to listen to your ipod, pop in your ear buds and commit to Spanish-only music. If you are dedicated to amping up your language, keep it Spanish only – you’ll be surprised at how quickly you start to tune your ear to different accents and dialects and you’re sure to find some great new tunes that will make it to the top of your playlist!
Watch online pronunciation videos.
Because accents are different across the Spanish speaking world, trying to master the accent from the region of your choice can be a challenge. Thankfully there are a plethora of videos online to help you master different accents, like the one below to practice pronunciation commonly used in Spain:
Read Out Loud to Yourself
Choose a book in Spanish or even your textbook and take 5-10 minutes a day to read it out loud. This gives you a good opportunity to practice your pronunciation within the actual context of words and sentences and tune your ear.
If you always get tripped up when it comes to rolling your “r”’s or you’re struggling with increasing your speed of speaking, reading out loud can be the most efficient way to practice, practice, practice and repeat words and phrases as much as you want to until you are comfortable.
Keep a highlighter in your hand in case you don’t recognize all the words in the book you are reading so you can go back to them and learn them later.
Put on the Subtitulos
When watching movies it’s always best to watch the film in its native language. If you are watching a movie in English, always put on the Spanish subtitles – keep in mind that while the subtitles are not word for word translations, that’s a good thing! You’ll be able to read the subtitles and learn how to say certain words and phrases like a native speaker would say them in Spanish.
Whenever possible, watch films from Spanish speaking countries. Spain has a huge film culture and produce some of the greatest foreign films recognized throughout festivals each year. Watch the film in its native language, but don’t use the English subtitles! It will be too easy to rely on simply reading the words in English rather than tuning your ear to Spanish.
Reading the subtitles in Spanish while listening to the film in Spanish is the best way to tune your ear to native vocabulary and pronunciation and reinforces it both visually and audibly.
Increase your Network of Native Speakers
Making friends with a native Spanish speaker is probably the next best thing you can do to improve your fluency quickly after immersing yourself completely in a Spanish speaking culture.
If you make a new friend who is bilingual, ask if they would be willing to spend half of your time together speaking in Spanish and the other half speaking in English. You can have fun together while improving your language.
Ask your friend to be open to correcting you. The best way to learn quickly and remember it quickly is by making mistakes. If your native speaking friend can gently correct you, you will speed up your fluency at record speed.
Hanging out with native speakers will also teach you things books or google can’t – like body language, social constraints, appropriate facial expressions and more non-verbal cues that will help others think you are a native speaker – the ultimate compliment any language learner strives for!
Learn Slang Expressions
Learning slag expressions is going to be the most authentic way to increase your credibility while speaking Spanish. When learning native expressions, keep in mind that some are only specific to certain countries, regions, and dialects. What might mean one thing in Mexico can mean something completely different in Spain.
Learn a handful of expressions that are generally used and accepted across the Spanish-speaking world. Here are a few to get you started:
Ser la leche – to be awesome or the best at doing something.
For example, “Acabo de ganar el juego, es que soy la leche” = I just won the game, I’m amazing!
De puta madre – kickass; amazing.
For example, “esa musica es de puta madre” = That music is so kickass!
Dar la lata – to bother or annoy someone.
For example, “deja de darme la lata” = Stop bothering me.
Que fuerte – unbelievable
For example, Person 1: “¿Sabías que Roberto le rompió la pierna?!” Person 2:” ¡Qué fuerte!” = Did you know that Roberto broke his leg? That’s unbelievable!
De mala leche – really angry
For example, Mi esposo de de mala leche hoy = My husband is really angry today.
Tomarse el pelo – to pull one’s leg
For example, “no me tomes el pelo” = Stop pulling my leg.
There are hundreds more slang and colloquial phrases that you can learn depending on the region of Spanish or Spanish speakers you will typically be speaking to!! In this case, google is your best friend! Listening to music, watching movies, and of course making friends with a native speaker will help amp up your slang vocabulary at record speed.
Think in Spanish
One of the biggest mistakes and easiest mishaps to fall into that many language learners experience is the temptation to translate everything. STOP TRANSLATING! It’s ok if you don’t know a specific word or phrase to look up how one might say it in Spanish vs. English, but that’s just it – Spanish is it’s own language and not everything is directly translatable. Sometimes translating phrases word for word, while they may be technically or academically correct, would never be how a native Spanish speaker would express themselves and it will be the easiest giveaway to someone that you are not a native speaker.
Once you start getting away from wanting to translate everything word for word and you start thinking in Spanish only, you will be surprised at how quickly you start sounding like a native speaker.
Carve out some time for yourself every day to process all of your thoughts in Spanish. At first it will feel really uncomfortable but once you start thinking to yourself in Spanish rather than in English, it will start to come naturally and you won’t have to try so hard to make the switch between the two languages.
Some easy ways to get started thinking in Spanish might be:
Make your grocery list in Spanish
Plan out the following day in Spanish each evening when you get home
Make your to-do list in Spanish every morning at work
Describe your surroundings to yourself in Spanish during your morning bus ride or commute
The best way to force your fluency to improve is through total immersion. The most ideal way to learn a language is of course to immerse yourself in the culture of a foreign country. If you are a student or young adult, take advantage of your student abroad or teaching abroad programs. Even if you’ve never been out of the country before and only have a basic knowledge of Spanish, take a leap of faith! Immersing yourself in another country will force you to use your language skills to survive in a foreign culture – you’ll learn how to order in a restaurant, buy groceries, make friends, travel, ask for directions, and more all in Spanish! Your experiences abroad will last a lifetime and you’ll be sure to tell stories about your adventures in Spain or Latin America for years to come.
If you are not a student or just don’t have the means, time, (or ability to leave your day job!) to spend time in another country, you can use total immersion simulation programs like Rosetta Stone or visit a program like Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota that offers total language and cultural immersion programs for adults and kids alike.
Are you fluent in a second language? What are some of your tips and tricks? Share in the comments!