There’s no way around it—Spanish is a quick language.
In fact, studies show that Spanish speakers cram more syllables into each second than their English-speaking counterparts.
That may explain why it sometimes feels like Spanish speakers talk impossibly fast.
It also may explain why Spanish learners often struggle to keep up in conversations with natives.
Do you find yourself tripping over your words when you try to speak fluently in Spanish?
If so, the four tips below will help you stay cool and confident while speaking as rapidly as a native speaker.
But why should you care about talking fast in the first place?
Why Focus on Speed?
When speaking Spanish with native speakers, particularly in a group situation, being able to speak confidently and quickly is crucial. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to keep up with your newfound friends!
Plus, working on your speed has many other benefits. By doing speed drills, you’ll improve your overall pronunciation, and you’ll sound more like a native speaker.
Additionally, increasing your speed will help you train your brain to think in Spanish, since translating in your head will be impossible.
Finally, doing speed drills is fun! Think of the exercises and techniques suggested below as a kind of game where you’re always competing against yourself and the clock. Doing speed exercises alongside Spanish grammar practice and studying specific areas of vocabulary adds dynamism, competition and fun to the language-learning process.
Rapid-fire Spanish: How to Improve Your Speaking Technique in 4 Swift Steps
1. Learn that not all syllables are equally important.
How do Spanish speakers manage to cram so many words into every second? Part of the reason is that they know how to economize by blending syllables into one another—or leaving them out entirely!
In certain cases, it’s normal to link two adjacent words in Spanish so that they sound like one. You can do this in the following cases:
- When the last letter of one word is the same as the first letter of the next word. For example, the phrase las sillas (the chairs) would sound more like lasillas in conversational spoken Spanish.
- When the last letter of one word is a consonant and the first letter of the next word is a vowel, like in the sentence Están allí (They are there).
- When the last letter of one word and the first letter of the next word are both vowels, like in the sentence Ha elegido irse (She’s chosen to leave). From the mouth of a native speaker, this sentence would come out like one long word with no pauses: haelegidoirse.
Word-linking like this is completely accepted and correct Spanish-speaking practice. But deleting syllables and blending words doesn’t stop there. In colloquial Spanish and certain regional accents, there are many ways to economize your speech to allow you to talk more quickly and sound more like a native speaker. For example:
- All over the Spanish-speaking world, some people choose to simply ignore the second syllable of the word para (for). Why say para que (so that) when you could simply say pa’que? The same goes for pa’ siempre (forever) or pa’lla (over there, from para allá). Para is a highly common word in Spanish, and you’ll hear this shortening all the time in music or in conversation with native speakers.
- In certain Spanish-speaking accents, you can drop the d at the end of past participles. This is quite common in the accents of southern Spain, where it would be completely normal to hear someone say, for example, está reventá instead of está reventada (it’s broken). This sort of pronunciation is so common that you’ll even see many restaurant menus in the area advertising pescaíto frito rather than pescadito frito (fried fish).
- You may hear Spanish speakers aspirating their s sounds (replacing them with an English h sound). I first heard this in Argentina, but it’s common around the Spanish-speaking world. You can aspirate your s when the s sound is followed by another consonant. For example, the word estoy (to be) with an aspirated s would sound like eh’toy.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways Spanish speakers colloquially shorten their words. You can get a broader idea of how Spanish speakers from all over the world actually speak by watching videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos, like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos—topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
As you listen to native speakers from different regions, you’ll undoubtedly pick up on further ways to speak more quickly and naturally. As you practice incorporating these tricks in your own speech, it’ll make it easier for you to understand native speakers.
Sure, this isn’t exactly “correct” Spanish—and if you’re preparing for the DELE exam or doing a job interview, you might want to refrain from shortening your words in this way. However, in casual social situations, these tips will help your Spanish sound more natural and fluid.
Just take a minute to listen to the free sample materials on the Gritty Spanish website. You’ll quickly hear what real native speakers can sound like—dropping syllables out, dropping slang everywhere—when they’re chatting with fellow natives. Just keep in mind that the materials there are meant for adults only (and adults who don’t take offense to curses and offensive topics, at that) but it’s a fun, wild ride through real-world Spanish.
2. Embrace your inner musician.
Learning the lyrics to Spanish songs and then singing along is a fabulous way to improve your speed. Not to mention, it’ll do wonders for your vocabulary and pronunciation, and provide a window into Spanish-speaking culture! Plus, busting out a Spanish song at karaoke night is super impressive (and even more so if you can sing it with impeccable pronunciation).
If you don’t have experience singing in Spanish, it’s a good idea to start with a slower song and then work your way up to faster songs.
To start, try practicing with “Esta soledad” by the Mexican singer Carla Morrison.
Although this song is quite slow, it’s great for practicing blending word sounds together. Listen to how Morrison sings the words me está quemando (it’s burning me) in the first line. It sounds like m’está quemando. Listen and try to imitate Morrison’s syllable-blending throughout the song, in lyrics like qué puedo hacer (what can I do), que estoy (that I am) and que era (that it was).
Ready to move up? Use Manu Chao’s “Desaparecido” to practice Spanish singing at medium speed.
This song has a lot of repetitive parts, which makes it easy to drill your speed and pronunciation. Learning Castilian Spanish? Manu Chao doesn’t lisp his c’s and z’s, but you can if you’re trying to practice! Words like desaparecido (disappeared), decir (to say) and desagradecido (disgraced) show up throughout the song and are perfect for practicing your Spanish c.
Once you’re able to sing along to medium-speed songs, try a song with truly fast lyrics! For example, I love Anita Tijoux’s “1977.”
This song talks about the singer’s younger life, and its super-fast lyrics are also interesting and poetic.
If you learn all the lyrics to “1977,” you’re bound to encounter some new vocabulary, like encrucijadas (crossroads), peldaño (step or rung) or peluche (teddy bear).
But one of my favorite things about practicing with this song is learning its rhythm. Tijoux’s style forces you to pay attention to which syllable gets the stress in each word. Practicing syllable stress is a surefire way to improve your Spanish accent, and “1977” forces you to practice at a conversational speed (or faster).
These, of course, are just examples, and this exercise will always be more fun if you choose music that appeals to you personally.
3. Identify your tricky sounds.
Years and years into my Spanish-learning journey, I still have trouble with certain difficult sounds in Spanish. Any combination of a Spanish r and a Spanish d is my personal Achilles’ heel—words like ordenador (computer), recuerdo (remember) and ardiendo (burning) never fail to slow me down, and they can sure throw off my rhythm when I’m speaking.
What are your difficult Spanish sounds? Do you struggle with the Castilian lisp? Maybe the guttural j and g? Or perhaps the dreaded r fuerte (rolled r) gives you trouble. Once you identify the sounds that are difficult for you, you can isolate them and work on them with specific exercises.
Tongue twisters may seem silly and juvenile, but they truly are a great way to practice those few difficult Spanish sounds. Here are a few examples, broken down by tricky sound:
To practice the Spanish r
Tres tristes tigres comen trigo en un trigal. (Three sad tigers eat wheat in a wheatfield.)
Erre con erre guitarra, erre con erre barril, rápido ruedan las ruedas del ferrocarril. (R with R cigar, R with R barrel, rapidly spin the wheels of the train.)
Un perro rompe la rama del árbol. (A dog breaks the branch of the tree.)
To practice the Castilian lisp
Son las cinco menos cinco, faltan cinco para las cinco, ¿cuántas veces dije cinco sin contar el último cinco? (It’s five minutes to five, five minutes left until five, how many times did I say five without counting the last five?)
A Rosa Rizo un reto le dijo que rezara en ruso, y aunque fue confuso, Rosa Rizo reza en ruso. (A challenge told Rosa Rizo to pray in Russian, and although it was confusing, Rosa Rizo prays in Russian.)
To practice the g and j
Juguemos al juglar, si al juglar jugamos, al jugar al juglar jugaremos. (Let’s play juggling, if we play juggling, playing juggling is what we’ll play.)
De generación en generación las generaciones se degeneran con mayor degeneración. (From generation to generation the generations degenerate with greater degeneration.)
To practice the ñ
Del codo al caño, del caño al codo. (From the elbow to the spout, from the spout to the elbow.)
Antonio con el moño dio su testimonio en otoño. (Antonio with the lace gave his testimony in autumn.)
This list only scratches the surface of Spanish trabalenguas (tongue twisters). You can find more tongue twisters and tips on using and finding them in this post. Some sites, like this one, have their tongue twisters sorted by letter sound, so you can specifically find ones that work the sounds you struggle with.
4. Don’t fret about the finer points of grammar.
Practicing your grammar is obviously important, and good grammar is essential to being able to communicate in Spanish.
But there’s a time and a place for impeccable grammar, and in a group social situation it doesn’t always matter if you choose the correct direct or indirect object pronoun. (Come on, not even all Spanish speakers can keep that one straight!)
Learning to prioritize speed and fluency over perfect grammar can be difficult, especially for language learners who feel self-conscious about their speaking ability. The urge to go back and correct every error, or to stammer and slow down until you can remember the perfect sentence construction, can really trip up an intermediate- or even advanced-level speaker.
The best way to improve in this regard is to find comfortable, low-stress social situations where you can practice your Spanish without worrying too much about grammar.
This means it’s crucial to find speaking opportunities outside of a classroom setting! Look for a speaking partner through Conversation Exchange or for a language exchange in your area through Meetup.
If you’re enrolled in a Spanish class, approach some of your classmates and ask if they’d be interested in doing weekly conversation sessions outside of class. These sessions will allow you and your fellow learners to reinforce what you’ve learned in class, and it’s also a great way to bond and make friends.
If you don’t feel that you have a high enough level to hold full conversations in Spanish, you can try this exercise by yourself: Find a list of questions or discussion topics (there’s a great one over at I-TESL-J). Set a timer and see how long you can talk, impromptu, about one of the topics without stopping or stalling. As you talk, try to prioritize speed, fluidity and pronunciation. If you also want to incorporate grammar practice, record yourself speaking. Later, you can review the recording and make a note of what grammar points you need to work on.
Prioritizing speed and fluidity will help you get over the self-consciousness and second-guessing that impede many language learners. Your Spanish accent will improve—as will your confidence. In most social situations, speaking confidently and with good pronunciation will matter more than whether or not you used the correct gender form of an adjective or if you mixed up the imperative and the subjunctive.
Being able to speak confidently at conversation speed is crucial when you’re in social situations with Spanish speakers. The tips and exercises above will help build your confidence.
While focusing on speed, you’ll be making great strides in bettering your Spanish pronunciation.
So have fun racing against the clock—your Spanish will improve leaps and bounds before you know it!
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