Have you found a Spanish conversation partner in town?
Are you chatting with someone online from the comfort of your own home?
Or maybe you’re still a bit intimidated of talking with a native speaker, and haven’t set something up yet. (Which if that’s the case, do it! You’re ready! It could be the best decision of your year!)
Spanish conversation practice is one of the best and quickest ways to bump up your language skills from an intermediate to advanced level, but few people really know how to get the most out of each session.
Conversation classes should focus on fluency and be as fun and light-hearted as possible. I found that once I learned how to relax and go with the flow, I fell naturally into the rhythm of the Spanish language.
I had a lot of fun during my conversation classes, mainly because I avoided the temptation to structure them too much. It’s easy to feel frustrated when you can’t communicate what you want to say and the clock continues to tick along happily. Expecting too much from every single conversation class is perhaps one of the most common mistakes made by the majority of Spanish language learners.
So then what is the best way to approach your Spanish conversation practice?
To get the most out of conversation classes or exchanges and practice like a rock star—whether you’re a beginner or advanced speaker—here are eight fantastic tips for you.
8 Tips to Practice Spanish Conversation Like a Rock Star
1. Practice at least 2-3 times per week.
I found that conversations classes once a week really wasn’t enough for me. The only real way to become fluent in Spanish is to speak as frequently as possible. Twice a week is a really good start, but three times a week is ideal. You don’t have to have long sessions—even 30 minutes three times a week can make a real difference.
It’s also absolutely vital that you speak with a native speaker. It doesn’t matter if he or she has teaching experience or knows how to explain Spanish grammar to you. What’s important is that you hear natural speech from a native.
2. Find a variety of people to talk with.
I took conversation classes for about six months while living in Venezuela and for about two years while living in Argentina. I made sure that I had sessions organized with more than one person in both countries. I found the variety to be really important. I learned street slang from some, and formal speech and an extensive vocabulary from others. With some we talked about our personal lives, with others we gossiped about cinema and art exhibitions.
Whether I’m in an interview, traveling across the rural plains of Latin America, chatting with friends on a Friday night after work or discussing the importance of arts and culture, I now have access to the appropriate vocabulary and can express my views through words that fit the social context. I wouldn’t be able to do this without having enjoyed such varied conversations with such different people during these conversation classes.
3. Expand your skills by signing up for group conversations.
I strongly recommend organizing a combination of both private conversation classes and group sessions. The key is to find a group of language learners who have a better level of Spanish than you. I found that by mixing with people who could speak better Spanish, I was able to learn new phrases and improve my own Spanish at a faster rate. One of the first group conversation classes I took was with language students who needed my help to converse. That didn’t help me at all.
Group sessions are also useful because they force you to speak Spanish while listening to a number of people talking at the same time. This prepares you for real-life social situations in Spanish, and there’s nothing better than sessions that equip you with skills you’ll actually end up using.
One unique option for finding a group conversation class is LingQ. This Spanish learning space is like a forum, language exchange, tutoring site and app all rolled into one. They offer a lot of uniquely convenient features that you won’t find elsewhere—like group conversation courses and one-one-courses.
4. Invest in a little pre-conversation preparation.
If your level of Spanish is anything between beginner to intermediate, it’s a good idea to read or watch something in Spanish before turning up to your conversation class—in order to have something to talk about. When first starting out, the most difficult thing about a conversation class is having the vocabulary to be able to keep the dialogue moving. By watching or reading something specific beforehand, you’ll arrive to your conversation class with a bank of vocabulary to draw upon and a topic in mind.
I also used to send what I’d read or watched to my conversation buddy before attending the session too. It noticeably helped when the other person knew what I had seen or read. They were able to help me by directing the conversation whenever I found that I was unable to express myself in Spanish.
If you’re looking for a short clip to watch before some conversation practice, check out FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized Spanish learning lessons.
This learning program has gathered entertaining clips from all corners of the Spanish speaking world, covering everything from Nicaraguan boxing to Cuban politics and our favorite translated musical numbers from “The Little Mermaid.”
While watching FluentU’s videos, you will get a fantastic sense of what it’s like to hear real Spanish outside a sheltered classroom environment or scripted podcast.
Below you’ll see the options for each video you come across. If you click “watch,” you’ll get to watch the video casually—but with a twist! There are interactive subtitles in Spanish and English to guide you along. If you miss a word, hover your cursor over the subtitles to instantly view its definition, pronunciation, usage examples and more.
Perhaps the most interesting part of FluentU is its learn mode, which offers outstanding tools for actively practicing Spanish vocabulary and grammar. Enter learn mode by choosing an individual video and clicking on “learn.”
You’ll go straight to the personalized flashcard content using key vocabulary from the video, giving you a chance to practice before or after watching the clip. Learn mode actually integrates pictures, video clips and example sentences into the flashcards, making for truly memorable in-context learning experiences.
Like what you see? Well, since you’re here to learn real-world Spanish conversation skills, I imagine you would be! Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App from the iTunes store.
5. Turn note-taking into a habit.
Get into the habit of taking a small notebook to the conversation sessions with you. Write down all new words that crop up during the class and re-read your notes throughout the week. This will help you familiarize yourself with the vocabulary and employ it more often.
I still re-read my old notebooks every now and then, and I still come across words that I’d heard in conversation but very rarely employ when I speak. The learning never stops!
6. Find the balance between questions and answers.
Take it in turns to be the one who asks the questions or the one who responds when participating in conversation practice. Some native speakers enjoy asking lots of questions and others are more content to sit back and have you guide the class.
The problem is that you need to ensure you get the chance to practice asking questions and answering them. You need to have the chance to improve both kinds of grammar constructions, so keep an eye out. If you feel that you’re always asking questions, make it clear to your conversation buddy that you’d really benefit from responding to questions during the sessions too.
7. Record your conversations.
If your conversation partner doesn’t object, one of the best things you can do to get the most out of your conversation classes is to record each session. Once the class is through, you can listen to the conversation over and over again. I used to use these recordings to reinforce what I’d learned during the session and to correct my pronunciation.
Hearing myself in the recordings helped me notice the incorrect vowel tones I was making. I was able to hear how the natives spoke certain words and how I spoke them. Recording these sessions was, without a doubt, the key to improving my Spanish accent. Few people recognize my British roots now, and I’ve only been speaking for the past six years.
8. Keep the focus on fluidity and pronunciation.
Finally, to get the most out of the conversation sessions, it’s important to recognize that these classes are meant to improve fluidity and pronunciation. They’re not designed for grammar practice or for correcting poorly constructed sentences. You must make sure that you stay focused during these sessions, and that you don’t waste valuable time asking your conversation buddy to help you conjugate in the past tense, for example.
I used to make a note of grammar doubts in my notebook during the conversation classes. Later on, I would go back to my notes and find the answer to my grammar questions through another route. My time with native speakers was golden, and it wasn’t to be wasted on a series of grammar questions that I could work out for myself at a later date.
Remember: Think less, speak more, ignore your mistakes and keep talking with a smile. Conversation classes are all about fluidity, so avoid stopping in the middle of every sentence to make corrections.
Just go with the flow, and you’ll be practicing your Spanish conversation like a rock star! Rock on!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.