Hablo español con fluidez. Hablo español como un nativo.
I speak Spanish fluently. I speak Spanish like a native.
Isn’t that what every Spanish language learner dreams of saying, with the perfect accent, to a crowd of admiring fans? Maybe a crowd sounds intimidating—but how about impressing a native Spanish speaker who assumed you only knew English?
The desire to speak in another language is a great one, but the path to fluency isn’t always as easy as you might hope.
Here we’ve got some common stumbling blocks for Spanish learners and, thankfully, their fixes! Read on to bring your dream a little closer.
5 Stumbling Blocks to Becoming Fluent in Spanish (and Quick Fixes)
Mistake #1: Demanding Perfection from Yourself
A big mistake many language learners make is expecting themselves to speak the language perfectly straightaway.
Unfortunately, just like everything else, beginners (not to mention, intermediate and advanced students as well) are going to make mistakes. That’s okay. Once you overcome the fear of making a mistake you’ll learn more quickly because you won’t be afraid to try.
The Fix: The fix to perfectionism is to accept the likelihood of mistakes being made. Allowing yourself to make mistakes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t correct mistakes you make again and again. If you find yourself constantly confusing estar and ser, or por and para, consider a brush up on the rules and speak more slowly when using those words.
Another fix is to immerse yourself in the language. Immersing yourself in blogs and videos created by natives or experts will allow you to see others getting it right. You won’t learn the bad habits that are formed by speaking to non-natives.
Mistake #2: Looking Up Every Word
Some conscientious Spanish language learners think the best thing to do is look up every word they don’t know. However, they often do this in the midst of reading or watching Spanish content.
The problem with looking up words you don’t know is that it disturbs the flow of what you’re doing.
If you’re reading a piece of Spanish writing and then stop to find your dictionary and leaf through it for the right word, you’ll probably have forgotten what you’re up to or what was going on. Ditto for a video. It can make watching videos or reading Spanish feel really boring and tedious.
Plus, you won’t always be able to hit “pause” and look something up in real life. What happens when you want to interact in real-time with native speakers? In a conversation, it’s not really possible to look everything up. You can always ask, “Que significa [insert unknown word here]?” if you’re really lost, but that’s the best you’ll get.
Besides, how do you think you learned English? Often you would have just picked up words in their context rather than constantly asking what they meant.
The Fix: This one has a few fixes, because it depends what you’re doing when you come across the word. The first thing to do is make a list of words you don’t understand or simply underline them if you’re reading a book. This means you can forget about them for now and come back later. After you’ve finished that chapter or video you can look up each word and write its definition down.
Another good fix is to watch videos with English or Spanish subtitles. Beginners might find English subtitles helpful, but once you’re at the stage of knowing a few Spanish words it’s better to watch with Spanish subtitles. These can help you understand words you might not have heard properly.
For example, try out this Spanish language movie, called “La Vaca.” It’ll have you laughing and loving it, even as you learn heaps of new Spanish words. The English subtitles mean you won’t miss a beat. If you’re a Beyonce fan (and who isn’t?) then try listening to the Spanish versions of some of her songs!
You should also definitely give FluentU a try.
Plus, all of FluentU’s videos come with English and Spanish subtitles that you can toggle on and off at will. You can even view the definition of any captioned word right on-screen while you’re still watching the video! This is a great option if you can’t resist looking things up but don’t want to interrupt your precious Spanish flow.
Mistake #3: Waiting Until You Go Abroad
People often tell themselves that they’ll learn Spanish once they get to Spain or South America. There, they tell themselves, it’ll be easier.
The reality is, without any Spanish at your disposal, it’ll actually be harder. You’ll find it hard to engage locals. People who do speak English will just do that—speak English. Your immediate needs will overtake your desire to learn, and you may end up using far less Spanish than you would’ve liked.
The Fix: Set yourself some goals about the level you’d like to be at before you go away. A schedule can be a good way to be strict with yourself and know you’re moving ahead with your Spanish. You can immerse yourself in Spanish no matter what country you’re in—that’s the beauty of the internet.
As well as watching movies and reading in Spanish, consider narrating to yourself your life, in Spanish, as you go about doing things. You might want to do this in your head in public! It’s a great way to practice and learn new words. For more great tips on immersing yourself and becoming fluent in Spanish, check out this article. If you want to start small, try some short stories on Badosa!
Through immersing yourself before you go, you’ll gain a solid understanding of Spanish and feel more confident. That way, when you arrive in a Spanish-speaking country you can practice what you know rather than starting from scratch.
Mistake #4: Not Listening to Natives
Learning Spanish with study buddies can be great. But studying with only non-native peers could mean that they know about as much as you do (and that might not be much at all). They also probably don’t have that perfect accent or a native’s understanding of colloquialisms, sayings, exceptions to rules and other stuff that takes a while to understand.
If you don’t listen to natives or experts then you’re probably learning bad habits and reinforcing them. It’s much harder to break these naughty habits once they’re formed than it is to avoid forming them in the first place.
The Fix: Don’t know any Spanish natives? That’s okay, you have the Internet!
Watch YouTube videos, movies and listen to podcasts. These are all great ways to really focus on Spanish sounds. Look at the mouth of the speaker when you’re watching a movie—how do they create certain sounds? This can be very helpful.
It’s also a good idea to practice speaking the word after hearing it spoken. Pause the movie you’re watching and try saying the last line aloud. (This may annoy others watching the movie with you, so it’s probably a method best left for when you’re alone!) FluentU’s YouTube channel has plenty of videos you can listen to, to hear authentic Spanish.
Mistake #5: Giving Up
Sometimes learning a language can feel way too hard. You think, “It all seemed so much easier when I just knew ‘hola’ and ‘cerveza.'” You wonder if the level you’ve achieved is good enough. Surely you’ll find English speakers around anyway, right?
It’s certainly a difficult task to learn a new language, but it isn’t impossible. In fact, Spanish should get simpler for you as you progress. It’s not as full of irregularities as a language like English! Learning a new language offers so many benefits—new countries to explore, to work in or live in, new people to become friends, new movies and books to watch—the rewards are endless.
The Fix: Still feeling down? The fix for this one is simple—relax, enjoy the process and give yourself an easy set structure to follow (like FluentU). An app or website can help you form daily habits for language learning and make the process far easier. If you simply learn a little each day, in a few months you’ll astound yourself. Here are some great apps to make the process easier.
Now that you know that nothing can stand in your way, push forward on the road to Spanish fluency.
The rewards will be so worth the effort.
Just visualize yourself, at a lively tapas bar or in a roaring football-crazed crowd. A Spanish native turns to you and asks something, and you reply with ease. They continue talking and so do you.
All of a sudden, you’re really doing it—you’re speaking Spanish. And it’s the best feeling in the whole world!
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