10 Tips for Improving Your Spanish Conversation Skills

After you have been studying Spanish for a bit, you may feel inspired to try using it in real life situations. Or you may have attempted to, and found out, to your disappointment, that you didn’t get very far in your conversation. Perhaps the native Spanish speaker decided to speak back to you only in English, thinking their English is better than your Spanish. Or maybe you felt limited by what you could talk about with your lack of vocabulary or understanding of verb conjugation.

Perhaps this discouraged you from practicing conversation and you decided to spend more time studying, and less time conversing, choosing instead to wait until the right moment when your confidence level in Spanish is greater. In this article I share some of my own personal experiences in attempting to improve my conversation skills in Spanish, as well as some random and helpful observations I have made in my efforts to speak Spanish fluently.

1. Don’t Be Afraid! Whether you are a beginner or intermediate student, there’s no reason to be afraid of practicing your Spanish. No matter what, just be prepared to embarrass yourself a little, and be gracious about it. Not often, but once in a while, when you make a mistake, people get a good laugh out of it, especially if they like you! In that case, just smile and don’t worry about it. In other words, don’t take it personally if your Spanish evokes laughter.

2. Don’t Let Someone Else’s Mood or Prejudice Bother You
You may also happen to catch someone in a bad mood who is in no way obligated to entertain your attempts at practicing Spanish. Or maybe, and for a legitimate reason, they have a prejudice against gringos. Again, don’t take it so personal that it deflates your enthusiasm for learning Spanish. Prejudice is a fact of life everywhere, and although you may not have done anything personally to cause someone else’s prejudice or bad mood, you don’t have to let it affect you. The best thing is to be kind to everyone, smile, and try to be authentic and genuine. Perhaps this will help to break the prejudice or improve the mood of the person.

3. Let Them Know You Are A Spanish Student
More often than not, a native Spanish speaker will be gracious to oblige your Spanish practice, especially if you inform them that you are a Spanish student and would like to practice your Spanish with them. This is especially true for beginners. Oftentimes they may intentionally speak slower than normal to help you out. Or they may want to try out some of the English words they may have learned. If you have a hard time understanding them, or if you miss a word or phrase, ask them to repeat it. Or ask them to speak a little more slowly. “Lo siento, pero no entiendo. ¿Cómo dice usted?” (I’m sorry but I don’t understand. What did you say?) Or “¿Por favor, me habla un poco más lento?” (Can you please speak a little more slowly?) You can also simply express that you didn’t understand something with the universally understood facial gesture of “huh?”. This works well too.

4. Learn To Parrot
After a while, you will realize that many of your conversations end up covering the exact same limited subject material. This is usually due to limited vocabulary, or the inability to conjugate verbs fluently. Have you ever noticed some people seem to always say things the same way, as if they are just re-broadcasting things they’ve said multiple times in the past? Or have you noticed children often speaking on autopilot, or using catch phrases that they obviously picked up from somewhere? These people are usually “parroting”, speaking without giving much thought about what they are saying. Religious zealots and politicians are very adept at this.

This way of communicating is rather unconscious, and usually lacks the ability to listen to another, or care what they may have to say. However, if you are conscious of doing it for the purpose of building your conversation skills in a new language that you are learning, it can be a helpful tool. The key is to observe recurring words and phrases that native speakers use, and imitate their use of them. These can be connecting words which are used as conversation fillers. Or they could be short idiomatic expressions that are very common.

Developing this parroting skill requires exposing yourself to more real spoken Spanish rather than what you would learn from a textbook. For this purpose, 500 Spanish Videos is an incredibly useful tool, especially if you do not live in a Spanish speaking country. You may also try listening to the radio or watching television. But depending on your current level of Spanish, this may be too challenging, especially if you don’t have a transcript of what is being said.

5. Develop Your Listening Skills
Half of having good conversation skills in any language is listening! If you can’t hear what the other person is saying, your conversations won’t get very far. You may be able to practice your speaking skills or impress your listener with how well you pronounce Spanish or conjugate verbs. But if you aren’t able to understand what someone is saying, or if you aren’t a very good listener in general, the person you are with will likely get bored of your company.

Also, you’ll get frustrated that you can’t understand them or contribute to the conversation. So take your time to develop your listening skills. I highly recommend the short video course on this subject called Hear and Understand A Foreign Language.

6. Keep It Simple
Remember, most conversations are simple and superficial. Don’t expect a native Spanish speaker to be culling your brain for the secrets of the universe. You may be the self-appointed mayor of Genius-town, but to most you will be a “dumb Gringo”. Embrace the role of student and let your good qualities shine through whatever language barriers may exist.

7. Be Sure to Greet Everyone
Always, always, always begin any conversation with native Spanish speakers, with a polite greeting. “Buenos días” before noon. “Buenas tardes” in the afternoon up until dark. “Buenas noches” after dark. Or simply “Bueno” when you are feeling lazy. Don’t just start telling someone what you want or need from them without a proper greeting, an acknowledgement that they are an actual person and not merely your servant on demand. It is also incredibly helpful and inviting to smile as you greet somebody. This will help to melt the ice of distrust that people tend to have at first contact with a stranger. And they will be more likely to engage with you or offer their assistance.

8. Find a Latin Lover
So if you are single, finding a Latin lover will help you improve your conversational skills immensely. Of course, if this is your only reason for being intimate with someone, you are probably a hardcore Spanish geek. Just don’t let them know this is your ulterior motive. But for most people, this opportunity to improve your Spanish will be a natural consequence of human nature.

9. Be Thankful
Thank people for the chat. “Gracias por la charla.” Or, “Gracias por platicar conmigo.” Or, “Muy agradecido por la lección de español.” Many people enjoy helping others and thanking them is a simple way to acknowledge their kindness. Don’t take the kindness of others for granted and continue to give gringos the reputation they’ve earned.

10. Spanish Immersion
Of course the best way to develop your conversation skills is to spend time in a foreign country. It is also highly helpful to attend a Spanish language school and do a home stay with a local family. There are tons of schools with home stays to choose from, throughout Spain and Latin America. Consult the Spanish Immersion Directory to get you started on your search.

As with anything, being able to converse well in Spanish takes lots of practice. So be patient with your progress. When the day comes when you are able to have meaningful, spontaneous, profound conversations in Spanish, you will feel very satisfied with all the hard work you put in to reach that point. The effort is worth it!

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