A gringo in Latin American Spanish is a foreigner who really sticks out.
The Castilian Spanish (from Spain) equivalent is a guiri.
Hint: when speaking Spanish, you don’t want to sound like either.
Whilst there’s not much you can do about your appearance and, hey, you can be proud to be where you’re from, nobody wants to sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about.
It’s embarrassing when you feel like you just can’t fit in.
This is a quick and easy guide to sounding a lot more like a local when you’re speaking in your new language!
Learn How to Speak Spanish Like a Total Native in 7 Easy Steps
Now, as I pointed out, there are two different words for a foreigner or outsider, and which one you use depends on what part of the Spanish-speaking world you’re currently in. This brings me to my first point!
1. Recognize That Spanish Isn’t Always the Same Everywhere You Go.
This isn’t just a guide to not looking like a gringo/guiri, it’s also a guide to not embarrassing yourself in Spanish.
Whilst Spanish in Latin America and Spanish in Spain are in many ways the same, they do differ in some important ways.
This can include accent, which is a little harder to master. The main thing to know is that words can mean one thing in Spain and quite another in Latin America. For example, take the word coger. In Spain, coger means “to take” or “to get.” In much of Latin American Spanish, it’s a rude way of saying “to have sex.” This can obviously cause some difficulties.
For example, in Spain you might use “coger un taxi” but in Latin America you should opt for “tomar un taxi” to play it safe.
If you’d like to take someone by the hand, then in Spain you use the conjugation of coger de la mano. Unless you don’t want them to get the wrong idea, you’d better say tomar de la mano in Latin America.
2. Know Which Spanish Words Are False Friends.
Most people with a basic level of Spanish are aware of false friends, however, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and use the wrong word.
A commonly cited false friend is librería which sounds a heck of a lot like “library” but actually means “bookstore.” Embarazada is another one you might not want to mix up—it means pregnant, not embarrassed.
Realizar is another big one, though less commonly talked about (maybe because it’s not quite as funny as accidentally telling people you’re pregnant). Realizar means “to carry out,” “to make” or “to conduct.” If you’re trying to say you realized something, you use the conjugation of darse cuenta.
For example: No me di cuenta! (I didn’t realize!)
These are just a few but there are many, many more to be aware of. Keep an ear out for even more cognates and homophones when you listen to native speakers.
3. Gender Your Objects.
A feminine beer? A masculine day?
In English we don’t have masculine and feminine assignments for objects. That’s why it can be a little confusing for us to remember that, in Spanish, a hand is feminine but a day is masculine.
Those two examples can be extra confusing because they don’t follow the general rules. Typically in Spanish, as you may well know, a word which ends in o will be masculine and one that ends in a will be feminine.
La chica—Chica means girl, and the a ending signifies this.
El chico—Chico means boy and the o ending signifies this.
It can be hard to know whether a word is masculine or feminine for this reason, but if you practice speaking with Spanish natives or watch videos where Spanish people are talking, you tend to naturally pick it up.
It’s also good to familiarize yourself with the general rules and exceptions to the rules of gendered nouns. Hopefully, one day, it’ll be as obvious to you as it is to a Spaniard that a beer (la cerveza) is feminine, but a day (el día) is masculine!
4. Be Matchy-matchy.
In Spanish it’s very important to match. No, not your clothes. Your words.
You need to make sure that your nouns always match any articles and adjectives you put with them, in terms of quantity and gender.
For example, look at the articles:
Los días—The article (los) is plural and so is the noun.
El día—The article (el) is singular and so is the noun.
You also need to match the gender of the word with any adjectives. For example:
Los coches rojos (The red cars)—Coche is masculine so rojo must be masculine too.
However, if you were talking about something feminine, let’s say a house, you’d say:
La casa roja (The red house)—You’re now using the feminine and singular version of the adjective rojo/a.
So just remember, matching is always in, in Spanish!
5. Perfect Your Sexy Spanish Accent.
Your accent is a big way that people will know you’re a foreigner. Now, it takes a lot of practice to sound like a native, but it doesn’t take as much effort to just not sound like a guiri.
An easy thing about Spanish is that the way words are spelled is exactly the way they’re pronounced. Once you learn the Spanish alphabet, reading written Spanish correctly will be a snap. Unlike English, you can sound out words and be sure you’ll get them right every time.
One good way to practice your accent is to watch videos of Spanish people talking and pay close attention. This can help you hear various the ways Spanish people say different letters and words. You’ll even pick up slang, idioms and colloquialisms. A great place to start practicing accent with authentic Spanish videos is FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Plus, FluentU provides plenty of tools to actively practice your Spanish vocabulary and grammar, like interactive subtitles, flashcards, vocabulary lists and more.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the App from iTunes or the Google Play store and bring FluentU’s innovative language-learning experience to your iOS and Android device.
6. Learn Some Slang.
You might be learning Spanish from a textbook, or perhaps from a teacher at university or school. That’s great—it can certainly help with your grammar and your general vocabulary.
You’ll often find, however, that if you watch a Spanish movie or meet some Spanish people, they might be using words you’ve never heard of!
Think about the English you use at school compared to the English you might use in casual social situations. You’d use a lot more slang in a bar, or with your friends, than you would with your teacher. Right?
That’s why it’s important to pick up some idioms you can throw around to sound like a real native. Plus, practicing quirky Spanish sayings is way more fun than doing more conjugations!
7. Yo, Yo, Yo: Stop Saying it!
In Spanish, yo isn’t a way of saying “hey.” It means “I.”
In English, when we want to talk about ourselves we have to explicitly say “I.” Otherwise, nobody would know who we’re talking about. For example, the sentence “I drove the car” makes no sense if you just say “drove the car.”
On the other hand, in Spanish, the verbs have been conjugated to reflect who’s doing the action. For example:
Conduje el coche ( I drove the car)
Conducimos el coche (We drove the car)
That means that saying “I” (yo) in Spanish is unnecessary. If you say yo, it’s like emphasizing the “I” in “I drove the car.” This is perfectly acceptable too, but in most cases you can just drop the yo unless you really want to emphasize that it was you doing the action.
Now that I’ve given you all these tips on how to speak Spanish and not sound like a guiri, try to relax and not worry about how your Spanish sounds.
When you’re practicing or studying, then it’s important to pick out the mistakes you’re making.
When you’re speaking with others, try to relax and go with the flow. Nothing is going to hold your Spanish back more than you being too afraid to talk!
You can calm your nerves by taking a deep breath and reassuring yourself that you sound awesome. Heck, you’re speaking Spanish! That’s an accomplishment already. Conversation partners will understand that you’re learning, so no need to be stressed.
The more you practice speaking Spanish with confidence, the more you’ll start sounding like a native!