Do you remember learning how to ride a bike?
You may have started out slowly, observing others first before taking the plunge yourself. Or maybe you just hopped right on your shiny new bike and started pedaling, fast.
Both ways work, but eventually, you had to just hop on the bike and start practicing.
Like learning to ride a bike, learning to speak conversational Spanish will take practice.
You will have to leave the textbook training wheels behind and start actually using the language.
It can be a scary step, but we are here to help you get there!
Learn to Speak Conversational Spanish in 6 Steps
1. Discover Your Reasons for Learning Conversational Spanish
As with many things in life, it is important to find your own personal answer to a critical question: “Why are you trying to learn conversational Spanish, anyway?”
What is your motivation behind learning the language? What draws you back and pulls you forward into language learning?
You may want to improve your resume, connect with your roots, travel confidently through Spanish-speaking areas of the world or maybe you just love the sound of Spanish.
Whatever your reason is, make sure that it is a strong one. Diving into the world of conversational Spanish can be challenging. I can promise you that there will be awkward silences and misspoken words. Practice situations can get slightly uncomfortable and many occasions will push you out of your comfort zone, so you need to be able to muster up the determination to press on.
You will have a better chance of sticking with a learning plan if you know why you are trying to practice in the first place.
If you are having trouble finding your reason, reading about some benefits of learning Spanish might help you.
2. Choose a Type of Spanish to Learn
Spanish is a diverse language, used by 20 countries around the world… and that is not counting the many Spanish-speaking places where Spanish is not the official language. So when you decide that you want to “learn conversational Spanish,” something you should consider is who it is you actually want to communicate with.
Different dialects can have completely different variations of conversational Spanish, so make sure what you are learning will be useful to you. By choosing which kind of Spanish you want to converse in, you will save yourself a lot of time down the line. It would be a waste to learn all the specific rules of one dialect and then find out that they are inappropriate in another.
For instance, if you want to learn conversational Spanish for a trip to Spain, you would not start by learning the Peruvian dialect of the language. Likewise, you would not learn the Spanish of Spain if you live in America and want to communicate with your Latin American next-door neighbors.
It just does not make sense to focus your efforts on the wrong dialects!
Learn a bit about different Spanish accents and styles before you commit to one that makes sense for you.
3. Get Away from the Textbook
When you first start learning Spanish, it can be very easy to rely on textbook learning. But the truth is that, no matter how awesome your textbook is, it can be difficult to translate textbook knowledge into a conversation.
The rigid nature of textbooks means that you might use stiff and unnatural sentences in a conversation. You might also focus too much on finding the perfect word order and vocabulary, instead of thinking about the flow of the conversation.
One way to break this cycle is by getting away from the textbook. You do not have to abandon it altogether—textbooks are pretty useful!—but you can find some supplementary resources to help build your Spanish skills.
Easy ways to add some authentic Spanish to your study sessions is by watching TV in Spanish, listening to podcasts or finding a great Spanish music playlist.
The shadowing method—where you repeat sentences after, then at the same time as the target material—is one excellent way to improve your pronunciation skills and build confidence, so make sure to give that a try.
You can also use FluentU’s authentic Spanish videos to study the language in a novel way and see conversational Spanish modeled.
Those are just remote ways to learn! Many cities have in-person opportunities to build conversational Spanish skills. You may want to check out your local theater, concert venues, museum exhibits and more to find ways to practice Spanish.
4. Practice Your Listening Skills
Speaking is just one side of the equation. In order to have a good conversation, you will need to be able to listen effectively. The better you are able to follow a conversation, the more comfortable speaking in Spanish will be for you. It is hard to speak to someone when you do not understand what they are saying!
Put some time and effort into improving your listening skills by immersing yourself in the Spanish language and doing some active listening exercises.
Begin by watching TV, listening to the radio or listening to Spanish music—which you should already be doing if you followed step three above. Once you start getting used to the sounds of Spanish, turn off the subtitles. Go one short segment at a time and try to understand as much as you can. Play the segment back with subtitles and see how much you got right.
Repeat this as many times as it takes until you understand the segment completely, then start on a new one.
You will notice that, over time, you will begin to pick up more and more of the content as you listen, until you barely need the subtitles at all. Use this practice in conjunction with other learning methods for a super powerful boost to your listening skills.
And remember: If you are having trouble understanding someone, you can always ask them to speak a little slower! Most people are very accommodating of language learners and will be happy to slow down to a speed that you can follow.
5. Find a Practice Partner
A great way to practice conversational Spanish is by actually, well, having a conversation. Who would have thought?
Even if you do not live near anyone who speaks the variety of Spanish you want to learn, you can find someone who does online.
Look for a partner who is on a similar learning level and then start practicing! Your partner does not have to have the same skill level as you, but it can be helpful for building your language skills together. In the beginning, it may be a little be rough to piece a conversation together. But over time you should be able to build a solid foundation of conversational Spanish skills.
Another option is to find a conversational partner who is a native Spanish speaker and wants to learn English. This is called a language exchange partner, and you help each others’ conversational skills in your own native languages.
Many cities also have conversational meetups, so if you want to find a local partner, go out there and mingle. Usually, these groups meet at local community centers or bars and meetings offer excellent opportunities to find people with similar learning interests.
If you not quite sure where to find a partner, get started with some awesome online options.
6. Accept That You Will Make Mistakes
As with everything you will ever try to learn, you will make mistakes along the way. It is incredibly important to accept that you will make a lot of mistakes in Spanish as you start speaking. This is normal.
Many people are afraid to speak because they do not want to make a mistake. The mistake is not trying in the first place! Think back to the bike analogy: People rarely learn to ride the bike without skinning their knees a few times.
Try to speak without over-analyzing what you are about to say. If you choose to overthink something, then you will inevitably create an awkward pause in the conversation. It may seem scary to just say what comes to mind, even if it is wrong, but it is an important part of the Spanish learning process.
Do your best to listen closely to the conversation and respond without trying to be perfect. Overthinking will seriously hurt your conversation skills.
And remember that making mistakes is not just normal: it is human!
Here is a bit of final advice: Just do it!
Practicing your Spanish communication skills in an actual conversation can be scary, but you just have to try. You will be surprised how easily you pick things up, but you will not improve unless you practice. So kick off those training wheels and get talking!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.