Want to speak better Spanish?
Too shy to go to a big Spanish conversation table? Or is the timing and/or location inconvenient for you?
Or maybe there aren’t even any Spanish language events near you!
Not to worry!
What if I told you there were a low-pressure way to practice your Spanish with a native speaker—from home, in your pajamas and at your own convenience?
Sounds perfect, right? That’s exactly what you can do if you use Skype to improve your Spanish! Follow these tips, and you’ll know just what to do to get started.
7 Effective Tips to Gain Spanish Superpowers with Skype
1. Find a Native Spanish Speaker to Talk with on Skype
Having what some people call a language exchange partner or an “intercambio” means you meet regularly with this person—either virtually or physically—to practice a foreign language.
So if you speak English and are learning how to speak Spanish, you’ll want to meet with a native Spanish speaker learning English. Don’t know any native Spanish speakers? The nice thing about modern technology is that you can potentially meet anyone from almost any country in order to practice a foreign language!
These are both specifically designed so that people searching for native speakers in different languages can match up and meet each other. I have used it myself and found nice people who were really in the same mindset as I was at the time, wanting to improve and help others.
Secondly, you might want to create an account on CouchSurfing. This website is a sort of Facebook for travelers, allowing people looking for cheap accommodation abroad to be hosted on another member’s couch for a couple of days. But you don’t need to be traveling or seeking accommodation to take advantage of this culturally curious community!
Rather, post an ad on the website stating that you are looking for someone to practice your Spanish in exchange for helping with their English, the odds are really high that you are going to have lots of responses.
Thirdly, you might want to publish an ad on the Spanish-speaking countries of Craigslist to find people interested in doing such a language exchange.
Also, note that there are lots of Facebook groups of people who want to practice Spanish and/or English in which you should post an ad too.
Finally, don’t forget about mutual contacts! Remember that friend from college who taught English abroad in Spain? Guaranteed they can help you find a native Spanish speaker with whom you can connect! If you can’t think of anyone who has direct ties to native Spanish speakers, maybe a friend or acquaintance knows someone else who does—so ask around!
2. Prepare a Conversation Subject in Advance
Once you’ve found your Spanish Skype partner, prepare a conversation subject before meeting. This will make it less awkward talking for the first time, and allow you to prepare by looking up useful vocabulary ahead of time.
Make sure to avoid highly controversial subjects like politics, religion, gun control or something like that—especially at the beginning. Your language exchange should be light, and you should both feel comfortable in order to have the nicest experience possible.
So what sorts of topics could you select? Choose something you two are passionate about, whether it’s kayaking, football, gardening, music, etc. Try to go with something you could talk about for hours in your native language—a comfortable topic.
Be careful though, because this doesn’t mean you should limit your potential subject to the vocabulary you have so far. In fact, one of the reasons to choose a different subject for each conversation is actually so your partner can help you acquire more knowledge and vocabulary (and vice versa).
Here’s a bonus preparation tip: To “warm up” for your call, try listening to a few minutes of Spanish beforehand, to get your brain thinking in español. Not sure where to find something quick? Hop on over to FluentU!
Start using FluentU for free 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.
3. Record the Call to Listen to It Again Later
This one is important. Make sure to record your Skype sessions, because this will benefit you in several ways.
First of all, you can listen to the recording afterwards to find your mistakes, as well as the different words you did not know how to say. If you notice that you always make the same grammatical errors, for example, you’ll know what to work on during your study time.
Next, listening to the call again will help you integrate what you learned even better (especially if the call was filled with new vocabulary, grammatical corrections and general useful feedback).
Recording and listening to each session will also help you view your progress much easier, which is a great motivator. Imagine how good it will feel, months from now, to look back and re-watch your early Spanish speaking days!
Lastly, if you have a more advanced level, you can focus on listening to your partner’s accent in order to improve yours! Try to repeat everything he or she said, while attempting to mimic their pronunciation as closely as you can.
So are you ready to record? This page shows you the best ways to record your Skype conversations.
4. Don’t Rely Heavily on Spanish Translation Sites During the Call
When you are speaking with someone in a foreign language with some kind of translation device, guess what usually happens? Your brain takes the path of least resistance.
With the dictionary app right there in front of you, you’ll likely find yourself looking up every word you don’t know.
“But how else can I communicate with my partner if I don’t know the word?,” you may be wondering. Describe it! This is a really important skill to develop (plus it’ll make you really great at games like Catch Phrase and Taboo!).
For example, say you’re retelling a story about a basketball game. You want to say that it was tied, but you don’t know the word for “tie” in Spanish. Instead of pausing the conversation and looking it up, describe it using simple words you already know. Depending on your level, you could even talk without any verbs:
Equipo A – 59 puntos, y equipo B – 59 puntos.
Or heck, if cincuenta y nueve (fifty-nine) is too difficult for you to say just yet, simply use the easiest tied score you can say, like “tres-tres” (3-3). You can directly ask your partner what that situation is called, but he or she will likely have already chimed in to let you know the game had been in empate.
Not only does this technique allow you more speaking practice (rather than looking up a word, you talked your way around it), but it also keeps the conversation flowing and you learn more naturally, in-context.
So believe me, this little nuance makes a tremendous difference when you are learning any language. Don’t rely too much on a translation device, and instead, give your mind a chance to find another way to express or describe what you want to say.
Therefore, during your Skype conversations, make sure not to rely very much on things like Google Translate or a dictionary. You want to train your mind to find answers in Spanish “under pressure,” when you are involved in a live call with somebody.
5. Use the Chat Box Smartly to Improve Your Spanish Skills
Skype also has a chat box for written text, and you should use it strategically during your call. When there is something you don’t know how to say or did not understand, or perhaps when you encounter some new grammar rules, make a note of it in the chat box. There are two reasons for doing this.
First, your partner will be able to see what you need help with, and can offer assistance immediately.
It’s also a convenient place to to write new words for each other. For example, your partner could write the word “empate” in the chat when it first comes up in conversation, so that you can see how it’s written and add it to your list later. Do the same for your partner in English, writing new words as they’re learned, so your partner can see how they’re spelled and reference them later.
Secondly, after the call you can copy everything written in the chat box and paste it in a separate document for yourself.
Now you’ll have a list of all the things that troubled you during the call, so you can easily reference and learn more about each topic afterwards.
By the way, why write all of this down in the Skype chat box and not in a personal notebook or in Microsoft word? Well, since you guys share everything written in the chat box, you can both help each other with whatever’s written.
6. Work on Your Spanish Even When You’re Speaking in English
At the start of your first Skype session, you should agree to speak a certain amount of time in Spanish and then that same amount of time in English (for example, 30 minutes in Spanish and 30 in English).
You may think that you won’t be able to practice your Spanish that much when the conversation is in English, but you actually can!
For example, when your language exchange buddy asks you to translate a word for him in English, you’ll type it into the chat box, right? Now you can ask yourself later if you know the Spanish translation of each of these English words. If you do, great! If not, look them up!
Pay attention to your partner’s errors in English, as these often correlate to problems you’ll have in Spanish. For example, your partner might say “I have 22 years” instead of “I am 22,” since in Spanish you use the verb tener “to have” with age (Tengo 22 años).
7. Use the Webcam to Your Advantage
What do I mean by that? Remember when I said earlier that you should limit the use of translation devices during your Skype call? Well, the video element can be a big help! How?
In addition to talking your way around a word, you can also use hand gestures and facial expressions to describe certain terms or situations. If we go back to that basketball game example, try to describe “dribbling” or “shooting” without using using your hands. Difficult, eh?
This is why you should always use the webcam during your language exchange sessions. Not only does it help create more rapport when you can actually see the other person, but seeing each other will make it much easier to act out or describe words you don’t know.
Finally, it helps to see your partner’s lips moving as he or she speaks. You’ll notice that in Spanish you open your mouth much wider while speaking than we do in English, which affects your pronunciation. So using the video feature of Skype is an all-around good idea!
To wrap up, know that you can take advantage of learning Spanish through Skype no matter what level you are at.
As a beginner, you’ll have a personal yet informal Spanish teacher with whom you can chat in your target language. If you’re an intermediate learner, you’ll improve your understanding of finer and sometimes trickier Spanish rules.
And an advanced Spanish learner will reach fluency much quicker by having a long, uninterrupted chat with a native speaker every week.
So no matter your level at this point, use the tips and advice in this post to start speaking Spanish over Skype!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.