When you hear two people speaking rapid, fluent Spanish, it’s almost as if they’re doing some kind of complex, secret handshake.
Are you longing to become a card-carrying member of the top secret Spanish conversation club?
Are you ready to break into some basic conversational Spanish?
Well, you might already be a member of this cool linguistic society. Even if you’re a beginner! Just try repeating the lines below to yourself in the mirror, or use them with a friend:
¡Hola! ¿Qué tal? (Hi! How are you?)
¡Bien! ¿Y tú? (Good! And you?)
¡Bien! ¿Cómo te llamas? (Good! What is your name?)
Me llamo _______. (My name is ______.)
That’s it! Easy, right? You’re already on the path to learning and using beautiful conversational Spanish.
Truth be told, some of us might not feel “ready ready” to utter our first words. We may feel more comfortable in the Spanish grammar, reading and writing zone.
Why? Because we can carefully (and anonymously) learn without being exposed as a beginner who makes mistakes. A beginner who makes mistakes?! Shocking.
When starting Spanish conversation with an eye towards fluency, it’s important to channel your inner child. Approach speaking Spanish as an eager learner who’s unafraid of mistakes. Let go of your ego that tells you to be the best at everything, or that urges you to wait to speak perfectly before sharing your skills (speaking Spanish!) with the world.
Talk On! How to Master 5 Basic Conversational Scenarios in Spanish
We’ve all got to start somewhere and today is a great day to begin conversational Spanish. And you know what? If you know (or just learned) the phrases above, you’re ready to start!
So let’s get you talking!
There are lots of ways and methods to build your Spanish conversation skills. Check out these helpful Spanish conversation tips to get the juices flowing. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room… fear.
One big step is to get yourself abroad where you’ll have ample speaking practice partners, or to track down a language conversation partner online. You could even try to find opportunities to use your Spanish at work or find a job which requires Spanish language skills—but that can wait until you’re feeling more confident, if you haven’t gotten past “hola” yet. Regardless, it’s always good to check what kind of professional development courses and training sessions are open to interested employees who are studying a key language for business.
For now, you can approach people on the street in a foreign country, or even in your home country if you’re super bold, and try these questions to get a Spanish conversation started.
¿Hablas español? (Do you speak Spanish?)
Estoy estudiando español. ¿Quieres practicar conmigo? (I am studying Spanish. Do you want to practice with me?)
Well done! And yes, I’d be happy to practice with you.
Face the Fear
¿Qué es eso? (What is that?)
You point at something “shocking” behind me. I turn around to look… and you beeline for the door!
A helpful phrase if you need to jet… but hey! No need to be so scared of speaking Spanish. Really. Let’s just break this down a little bit.
I think the best way to face fear is to imagine a worst case scenario or three. What’s the worst thing that’s likely to happen if you start conversing with other people in Spanish?
Here we’re going to walk you right through them.
5 Scary Conversational Scenarios and How to Conquer Them
1. You don’t understand what someone is saying
Let’s play with a simple example of what to do when you miss a word or don’t understand something said in Spanish. In this case, let’s say that someone asks, “¿Qué hora es?” (What time is it?)
The word hora sounds familiar but you’ve gone completely blank. Hora.. hora… hora… Shoot! What to do? A couple handy solutions to the rescue! Simply ask:
“No entiendo. ¿Qué significa ‘hora’?” (I don’t understand. What does hora mean?)
This is a great phrase when you want to know the meaning of a certain word. Just replace hora with that unknown word. In this case, the person you’re talking to will likely point to their wrist where a watch would be. Oh, yeah! Hora means “hour”! Problem solved.
Good job, gumshoe! Now you can answer that poor person who you’ve probably made late for work.
Backup: Download a Spanish dictionary application and do a look-up on the fly.
2. Someone is speaking way too fast
You’ll just need one simple phrase to master this situation:
¿Puedes repetirlo más despacio? (Can you repeat that more slowly?)
Keep in mind that the verb poder is conjugated in the informal “you” form (puedes) in the above line. If you need to address someone more formally or respectfully, you must conjugate it in the more formal usted form. For the verb poder, this is puede. See more information about these conjugation rules here!
After telling them this line, the person will repeat their sentence more slowly so you have time to process. Language learners need time to think, for goodness’ sake! If you still don’t understand after the slow-down, see scenario #1 above. Problem solved.
Backup: Use hand gestures to confirm what they’re saying. Pointing at people and things while you’re talking can go a long way. Remember, the goal is communication, not perfection.
3. People laugh at your Spanish
This, my friend, is a classic fear of public humiliation. Take me as an example. If you’re a klutz, you might drop coffee down the front of your shirt during your Spanish conversation class in a cafe. Perhaps your face goes red (like mine) and you feel compelled to address the situation. For example, you might have said something silly like:
You’re embarrassed, and tried to make light of it, but instead you’ve now exclaimed that you’re expecting a baby! (In Spanish embarazada means pregnant.) Now you’re about 100 times more embarrassed. Your class is laughing so hard they’re crying.
Consider this: Did someone die? Are you going to die? If an English student made the same mistake in English, can you see how it might be funny? Remember what I said about approaching Spanish conversation as an eager beginner. If you don’t know the word, have your buddies explain it between fits of laughter. Laugh it up. After you wipe the tears from your eyes, get back on the horse.
Backup: None, just go with it.
In this example case you could say (proudly), “sí, estoy embarazada” (yes, I’m pregnant). Hear the needle drop. Muahahaha.
As you can see, there’s really not much to lose here. So perhaps someone laughs it up at your expense. If this is the worst thing that can happen, what’s stopping you?
To avoid this, though, you can certainly go ahead and study up on the trickiest false friends. There are tons of these kinds of cognates that you can learn! There are even homophones—words that sound very much alike but have different meanings—within the Spanish language that could trip you up.
4. You need to break the ice
Sometimes the hardest part of a conversation is what to talk about, while keeping it simple, of course. Maybe you have a new conversation buddy or are just getting to know someone. You’ve covered the basics and now know their name, how they’re doing and maybe even where they’re from.
Here are some great ways to take the pressure off and start getting to know someone better.
A. Discover Surprising Facts
To discover some fun information—and possibly surprising information—about your conversation partner, invite them to a good, old-fashioned ice breaker game. First, say the following question to test the waters and see if your conversation partner is interested in playing something.
¿Quieres jugar a un juego? (Would you like to play a game?)
Once they agree, you say:
Dos verdades y una mentira. (Two Truths and a Lie.)
Two Truths and a Lie is a great get-to-know-you game. If you can write a few facts about your life in Spanish, you can play. Each person writes three things about themselves. Get creative. Two are true and one is a lie. Read them out loud. Be convincing. Be tricky. Your Spanish buddy needs to guess which is the lie. Then they’ll finally say something like:
Pienso que la segunda es una mentira. (I think the second one is a lie.)
After you’ve made him work for it, reveal the truth. Was he right?
¡No! La primera es una mentira. (No! The first is a lie.)
Then switch roles. You can find out some pretty interesting things about each other and maybe even have a laugh in the process.
B. Map Your Travels
Bring a map and a box of pins or sticky arrows. Take turns marking places you’ve visited. Ask your partner:
A: ¿Por dónde viajaste en el pasado? (Where did you travel in the past?)
B: Viajé a Chicago el año pasado. (I traveled to Chicago last year.)
A: Guay. Me gusta Chicago. (Cool. I like Chicago.)
B: ¿Por dónde viajaste en el pasado? (Where did you travel in the past?)
A: Viajé a Ecuador en el año 2000. (I traveled to Ecuador in 2000.)
B: ¡Yo también! (Me too!)
Travel is a traditionally popular topic and a great way to kick things off. You might discover that you’ve visited similar places or perhaps they’ve been somewhere you’d like to go and can tell you a bit more about it.
C. Share a Few Photos
Photos are a fun and personal way to get to know someone. You can learn a bit more about their life, loved ones or things that are important to them. Just be sure to curate and bring a variety of photos that represent important or interesting parts of your life.
People will love asking you questions about photos and the important people in your life!
A: ¿Quiénes son? (Who are they?)
B: Son mi madre y mi hermana. (It’s my mom and sister.)
A: ¿Cuántos hermanos tienes? (How many brothers and sisters do you have?)
B: Tengo tres hermanos, un hermano mayor y dos hermanas menores. (I have three siblings, one older brother and two younger sisters.)
A: ¡Ah! Muy bien. (Ah! Great.)
Come armed with a few helpful vocab words written on the back of each photo.
5. You’re out of conversation topics
A. When I Grow Up
Not just for kids… lots of older folks like to talk about what they want to be when they “grow up” too. If you phrase the question this way, do so wryly, with a little laugh, so that your conversation partner knows you’re being cute about it.
Q: ¿Qué quieres ser de mayor? (What do you want to be when you grow up?)
A: Quiero ser una escritora y fotógrafa que viaja por el mundo. (I want to be a writer and photographer who travels the world.)
You can also say, more maturely, “¿Qué tipo de trabajo le interesa hacer?” (What type of work are you interested in doing?).
Homework: Look up different names of professions and aspirations you have in advance so you’re ready to answer back.
A: ¿Qué superpoder quieres? (What superpower do you want?)
B: Quiero el poder de la buena memoria y viajar en el tiempo. (I want the power of good memory and time travel.)
Here are some popular alternatives for your perusal:
volar — fly
ser invisible — be invisible
visión de rayos X — x-ray vision
tener todo el conocimiento del universo — infinite knowledge
hablar español perfectamente — speak Spanish perfectly
Got a different, possibly more awesome one? Look it up in Spanish and share it with the rest of us please!
C. Favorite Things
Q: ¿Cuál es tu sitio favorito en el planeta? (What is your favorite place on the planet?)
A: Mi sitio favorito es Alaska porque me gusta la naturaleza. (My favorite place is Alaska because I like nature.)
Q: ¿Cuál es tu comida favorita? (What is your favorite food?)
A: Mi comida favorita es la pasta. (My favorite food is pasta.)
What about you? You can often find things to relate on when you talk about your favorite (and least favorite) things, so give it a try.
The hora (hour) has come. It’s time to practice these new phrases and personalize your answers. Homework, but good helpful homework.
With a little bit of prep, you’ll go in feeling a lot more ready to face the challenges of conversational Spanish and you’ll be ready to tackle all the worst-case-scenarios we talked about.
Didn’t get enough?! If you’re thirsty for more… check out some of these juicy conversation starters.
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