How To Become Fluent In Spanish

How To Become Fluent In Spanish

If becoming fluent in Spanish is your goal, there are a few things to know. First, the definition of “fluent” is quite subjective. There are really no clear benchmarks for when one is intermediate, advanced, or fluent in a foreign language. And those definitions may mean different things to different people. Does being fluent mean that you can understand others and communicate yourself well enough to be understood? Or does it mean you can understand everything you hear while speaking and sounding like a native speaker?

The second thing to know is that achieving a state of fluency is a long, arduous process which requires time, effort and dedication. To keep what you’ve learned and to build upon it takes years for most people. Even those who have spent several months in an immersion experience report that they slowly begin to lose what they’ve learned with the passage of time after they have moved back home. Everything you can do to keep practicing will help. After learning the basics of Spanish, this can include watching television or movies in Spanish, joining a Spanish conversation Meetup.com group in your area, or working with one or several Spanish learning programs.

At a certain point when learning Spanish, you may feel you have done all that you can to teach yourself the grammar and to build vocabulary, but you still don’t feel comfortable with speaking or hearing Spanish. This is a great time to attend a Spanish immersion school for a few months in order to take your Spanish to the next level. But for those who are unable to get away for an extended period, there are a few things you can do to come closer to being fluent.

One of the most important things to know is that in order to speak fluently, you have to hear fluently. Becoming fluent as a speaker depends on how well you hear real spoken Spanish. If you can’t hear it, you can’t speak it. And if you can’t hear what somebody is saying, you won’t be able to contribute much to a conversation. So if you want to be fluent in Spanish, developing your aural skills is the most important thing to focus on.

When I was at this point in my Spanish, I tried several approaches for improving my hearing of Spanish. One of the obvious things I tried was to watch movies in Spanish. Although this can be fun if the movie is good, the problem that I found was that my hearing really only improved when I watched something over and over again. In the case of movies, this is not that practical. What I discovered is that when I watch shorter videos, from 30 seconds to a minute, in a systematic way several times, my ability to hear Spanish really started to take off. Of course if you listen to the same thing several times, it will get better with each listening of that particular recording. But eventually I found that my comprehension of first time listening improved.

For example, the first time you hear something, maybe you understand 50%. After 10 times, you will understand closer to 100%. As you practice in this way, the first listen comprehension increases from 50% closer to 100%. Hearing fluently means you can listen to anything the first time and understand 100% of what is being said.

As you work on developing your aural skills, you come closer to becoming fluent by simultaneously working on your speaking skills. Here it is important to make the distinction between “speaking” skills and “conversational” skills. Conversational skills involve being able to converse which involves improvising, pulling out words and phrases from your memory and sharing your ideas and thoughts. It is certainly the goal of most language students to get to the point of being able to converse in their new language.

But before getting to that point, it is necessary to develop speaking skills. By this I mean the ability to speak the language naturally while sounding like a native. By sounding like a native, I don’t mean with a perfect accent, but rather saying things and using word combinations and phrases the way a native speaker would. The best ways to develop this ability are to read things out loud and to imitate native speakers.

Reading out loud helps the muscles in your mouth and face to get used to the different possible word combinations. It also helps you mentally get into the flow of the language, or the syntax. Here you also develop what I call “macro-pronunciation” which is when words flow into each other to form common phrases, which then flow into each other to form more complex sentences.

When reading aloud, I recommend working with a selected material on 5 different occasions. Each time, read the material 2 times consecutively. That is read it once, then repeat it. You will find that the first few times you are working on a comprehension level. Once you have the comprehension out of the way, you will notice your pronunciation improving. By the tenth time you read it, you will really be sounding like a native. You will also notice that as you do this and begin working on a new reading, the point of sounding like a native will come earlier and earlier, for example, by the 9th time, then the 8th, then the 7th, etc.

The other really important aspect of developing speaking skills is imitation. By observing the way real Spanish speakers speak and then copying that, we really start to sound like a native. There are a few ways to go about doing this. I feel it is best to find audios or videos of people speaking in an unscripted setting. Many learning programs have voice actors reading from a script and it doesn’t always sound natural. If you want to sound like an announcer and get a job reading script for the radio, then imitate this. But if you would rather sound like a real Spanish speaker, seek out the opportunity to practice imitating native speakers who aren’t reading from a script.

Remember, in developing the aural and speaking skills described above, we aren’t trying to become conversational. But this is happening without effort as a result of all the things you are practicing. The reading aloud, the imitation, the aural skills, are going to naturally improve your conversational skills. Seriously, the next time you talk to somebody in Spanish you will be amazed at how much your conversation skills have improved because you have worked on these other things!

In figuring these things out on my own, I developed a couple of Spanish learning programs with methods to create optimum results in developing these aural and speaking skills. Be sure to check out 500SpanishVideos.com and HolisticSpanish.com

The final thing to know about becoming fluent is that it requires practice, practice and practice! And patience! And it helps to enjoy the process and have fun with it!

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