How to speak Spanish naturally
Once I happened to overhear some of my friends speak about a foreign acquaintance of theirs, and what they said caught my attention: “His Spanish is so accurate that you could say he is a foreigner”.
And actually, there is this “correct” language we learn and a slightly “incorrect” but natural one. When we are listening to native speakers we can’t help noticing it: all of these words and phrases we know, but the way they are used is what intrigues us! Definitely, when we have a good level of Spanish we can say everything we intend to but quite often it won't be the way a native speaker would do it.
We understand that behind all those texts, grammar exercises and familiar speech of our teacher, there is one, and probably the most important level – living Spanish. It’s Spanish you can’t learn by simply memorizing verb conjugations, verb types and how to use the subjunctive. Even reading texts won’t teach you it either.
So how can we understand what it is something we lack to speak Spanish naturally?
The impression of natural speech depends on several factors. Among them, we have correct pronunciation, intonation, use of colloquialisms, and of course a reaction to each situation in particular. Surprisingly, spontaneous and natural speech comes with using filler words and joker words (we use this term to call words which are often used to substitute other words, e.g. "cosa", «eso», «algo», «poner», «tomar» and so on).
Usually, these things aren’t considered in Spanish lessons. We see pronunciation in Spanish as easy. Well, partly it’s true; but let’s not forget that there are a lot of regional accents. And even though the Spanish understand Russians perfectly, we tend to pronounce words somewhat differently. It might be happening due to not having enough or even none phonetics classes.
Unfortunately, intonation faces the same problem. There are very few textbooks which can please us with exercises on intonation. For example, Rápido Rápido (publishing house Difusión); in this one, you can find a small exercise with a scheme picture of intonation at the end of each chapter.
Colloquialisms don’t get the focus of close attention from authours of educational literature. Bitàcora method might be good for beginners; it shows, for one thing, patterns of use of “joker”-words, and there are rather good tasks for conversational practice.
A famous textbook by G. Nuzdin "Español en vivo" is also pretty good, it focuses on colloquial structures from the very start.
Colloquialisms get more attention in textbooks approaching level B1, e.g. De tú a tú, which is a level A1-B2 textbook for individual classes. It is a collection of useful words and phrases divided into categories according to the ways and situations where we use them.
There are great textbooks for higher levels with exercises and chapters for learning (yes, learning, not just repetition) of colloquialisms. "España en vivo" is beautifully structured and very useful (cont. "Español en vivo"), designed for levels from B2 to C2.
Another good textbook is "C de C1" (publishing house Difusión) with a video application available online. Each video has a thorough analysis on how to use different language hacks, jargon word and colloquialisms. Moreover, in some cases, they explain the features of pronunciation.
As you can see, learning resources to study “real” colloquial Spanish do exist. So why do we still sometimes struggle to speak beautifully and naturally, and respond adequately?
It’s all about practice. And you should do it not only during your Spanish classes. You have to force yourself, really try to use words, phrases and constructions in your speech as soon as you’ve learnt them. Don’t wait for your teacher to ask you to do it.
The best strategy to make the language “yours” is to use a “chain” - learnt - used immediately - ask your teacher if used incorrectly - used correctly - used voluntarily a few times during a class - used in your homework in writing tasks - used in a next lesson - used with a native speaker when a chance arrives”.
Try to include new expressions, words, constructions in your speech immediately, repeat them when you talk to your teacher. It doesn't matter if you have changed a topic or even you are doing a completely different exercise. Speech is alive, and it's important to make all resources work to the maximum!
You can use the following set of actions to “activate” material you’ve learnt:
- watch TV series with subtitles (good for us there are a lot of them online), comedies are especially good (Aída, iFamily, Spaniards in London, Buscando el norte, Allí abajo), write down words and phrases you like and find interesting (then use the chain of actions above);
- do some stylistic exercises with your teacher. For example, first try writing a review for a film you’ve seen, and then talk to your teacher about this film expressing your ideas from the review differently - the way you would probably tell your Spanish speaking friend about it (you can find such exercises in Abanico);
- pick characters you like from theatre plays, films, series, even politicians. Listen to them, look at them and try to copy not only what they say but the way they do it as well: their intonation, features of pronunciation, you can copy even mimics and gestures. Doesn't it sound like a lovely idea to become for a moment the king of Spain, some scandalous lady from a popular TV show, a comedy actor or a girl from Granada you know?
- “spy” on native speakers when you are in Spanish speaking countries. Practise your hearing - try noticing interesting words and phrases in conversations even if they don't really have anything to do with you (then follow the chain).
Be relaxed in your lessons. It’s not like you are preparing a report for your boss. Quite the opposite - you are talking about interesting things. Your teacher will do their best to make lessons interesting and pleasant for you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; you can always ask how to express different emotions in Spanish. Don’t be afraid to make jokes, speak simply, and even give silly answers. The only thing you should be afraid of is silence. Remember, the Spanish have a saying: "Con el hombre callado, mucho cuidado"- "Be very careful with a silent person".
And the most important thing is to always nurture your love to the Spanish language in as many ways as you can: travelling, reading, communication, films, food, and inspiring lessons with a good teacher. And soon you’ll feel that your Spanish is getting better, and big open smiles will appear on faces of everyone you talk to.
Good luck! Buena suerte!